I expect that most readers who are the least bit attuned to popular movies will have seen and can remember the movie Independence Day starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. For the rest of you, let me assure you that Independence Day wasn't the type of movie one would expect to find featured at an art house. It was more of a typical guy movie with lots of explosions, ground-breaking (at the time) special effects and huge crowds at the box office. (The movie grossed a whopping $817,400,878 world-wide, but like most highly popular movies didn't garner any Academy Awards other than the typical "Visual Effects" award.) Interestingly, I think that the reaction to the film by the audience makes a point that many skeptics don't grasp when reading certain Bible passages.
For the small minority who spent the 1990s in an cultural isolation chamber, Independence Day centered around the arrival of several huge alien spacecraft which hung over major cities around the globe. At one point, following failed human efforts to communicate with the alien craft, the alien ships attacked and destroyed several major cities and a large portion of the population of the planet. In the course of the movie, the viewers learn that the aliens weren't your reasonable, fun-loving aliens like Mork from Ork. Rather, these aliens were much more like a swarm of ravenous locusts moving from field to field utterly destroying everything in their wake. There was no way to reason with these aliens. They didn't want to have peace with humanity. They didn't want to share pictures of the kids over a cup o' joe. There was nothing that humanity could offer to make these aliens go away any more than the farmer can convince the locusts to visit his annoying neighbor's farm instead. They had come to feed. Like Galactus of Fantastic Four fame, the alien civilization travelled in a massive spaceship from planet to planet simply to destroy the planet for its resources and move on.
Warning, if you had planned to visit the "classic" or "science fiction" movie section of your local DVD or Blue Ray rental store (or if you are one of those rare people who like to have older movies sent to you via Netflix) to watch Independence Day because you just got out of your isolation chamber, I suggest you do so before venturing farther into this post. If, however, you have never seen the movie but are understandably overwhelmed with curiosity as to exactly what I might say about the movie despite the fact that I will now spoil the ending, then please read on. But don't say I didn't warn you....
Ultimately the two biggest stars of the movie, Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), fly up to the mother ship of this alien force in one of the alien fighter ships that had been recovered at the crash site in Roswell in 1947. (This is, of course, an error in the movie. The movie has the ship stored at Area 51, but everyone knows that the alien spaceship and its occupants were actually kept in underground vaults at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.) Using the cover of the alien fighter, Miller and Levinson slip into the mother ship where they launch a big ol' nuclear weapon right up its ... um ... cockpit. The mother ship is ultimately destroyed in a huge, special-effects nuclear blast and the smaller ships (which are still gigantic in size) that have been wrecking havoc across mother earth are defeated by the remnants of the air forces of shattered humanity.
There are a few Biblical concepts that are buried in Independence Day, and the first is a truth that is not found in the movie itself, but in the audience reaction to the movie: evil must be utterly destroyed. What happened in theatres when the aliens were destroyed? I expect that my personal experience was common. When the heroes turned the mother ship into nuclear soup and the nations of the word brought down the smaller (but still humongous) ships attacking the planet in a glorious show of force, practically every single person in the theatre burst into spontaneous cheers (shock and awe that!).
Why are we cheering? Quite simply, it is the correct resolution of the oldest plot in history: spiritual warfare. Good won and evil lost. Moreover, the evil was utterly and completely destroyed. As in The Lord of the Rings, the immediate evil of Sauron was annihilated. And we, being spiritual beings at heart, cheer at the defeat.
But wait a minute, wasn't the alien civilization totally destroyed -- not a single alien life form is left alive? And we cheer this act of genocide? After all, as the story suggests, the alien mother-ship contains the entire population of this particular race. Like other star-faring races of fiction, the entire civilization is travelling in this nomadic destroy and move-on manner. So, the earthlings (with a very geocentrist worldview) committed genocide against an entire alien culture. Why do we cheer this?
The answer (the one that many skeptics can't grasp) is that evil will ultimately be stamped out in its entirety. Deep down we all recognize that this will be so and that this is necessary for the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth where there will be no evil -- "there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4b NASB). When we see a personification of evil destroyed utterly and completely, we cheer because we recognize that such complete destruction is absolutely necessary for goodness to finally prevail.
"Wait," some may complain, "they were attacking us first! We have the right to self-defense." Absolutely. But that's the point, isn't it? That's the evidence that they are evil. They were out to destroy Earth first, and Earth responded by wiping out the evil it confronted. And we cheer.
"C'mon," others may say, "they were aliens, after all...." Again, yes, they were aliens (and incredibly ugly aliens, at that), but does that really make the difference? Suppose that the alien spacecraft had arrived and tried to make friends with Earth, but we Earthlings responded by attacking them to keep them from taking over the Earth. Would we cheer when the Earthlings defeated these friendly aliens? I wouldn't think so.
What if the Earthlings made the case that such contact with a more advanced civilization ultimately must result in the absolute annihilation of our civilization? After all, history shows that when a more advanced civilization encounters a comparatively primitive civilization, the more primitive civilization has always been either defeated or swallowed up my more advanced civilizations. Michael Medved paraphrases Yale Professor Howard Lamar in The 10 Big Lies About America who made this point when noting what happens when a Stone Age population confronts a more advanced population.
Think about those stories you see in the news about some headhunter in Borneo who's surviving in the jungle in a loincloth and suddenly he sees a plane overhead. He's never even see a knife or a shoe or a wheel, for that matter, and all of a sudden he's looking at a plane. The next thing you know, his tribe is discovered and here come the doctors, the missionaries, the anthropologists. Well, the tribes can't just disappear back into the jungle. They've made contact, so whatever happens next, their old life is finished. If they fight a modern world, they lose quickly, or else they try to accommodate to it and end up swallowed by a more advanced and powerful culture.
*** The outcome can go only one of two ways -- either sad or horrifying.
So, arguably, the Earthlings could claim that a pre-emptive strike is necessary to preserve our less technologically-advanced, non-star faring culture from this more technologically-advanced population. Would we cheer such an attack? No, I can't imagine too many people cheering the destruction of this ship of gentle ET types.
No, the reason that we cheer is because these aliens are evil. Utterly evil. Destroy humanity evil.
Which brings us to the second point: when a being is intelligent, its actions dictate what is evil. Calling something evil does not depend upon whether the evil ones chose to be that way or cannot help themselves. In other words, for intelligent beings it does not matter if the evil is the result of nature, nurture or choice; evil is evil.
The aliens in Independence Day were clearly intelligent. They drove a interstellar spaceship, for goodness sake. They almost certainly created it and they were able to communicate. They used a strategy in attacking the Earth. Yet, David Levinson (if I remember correctly) compared them to locusts. Locusts don't deliberate when they are going to utterly destroy a field. They act on instinct. Could it be that these aliens were instinctively or genetically driven to act as they did? Ultimately, it doesn't matter what their motivation would be. They were intelligent and were capable of deliberating to not destroy another culture. Regardless of what was driving them, because they were capable of deliberation which means that they were necessarily capable of choosing a different course, the fact that they chose to continue with the destruction of the Earth is what makes their actions evil.
In sum, I don't believe that Independence Day should be seen as a source of great theological insight. However, since the story involves the oldest of all plots -- good versus evil -- I thought it worthwhile to consider what we might learn about evil amidst the battles and destruction. The lessons aren't as deep as those that can be learned from The Lord of the Rings, but there are lessons to be learned -- even from a movie that only won the "Special Effects" Oscar. Surprising.