AfIM: The Argument from !!!! IRON MAN !!!!

No, of course this isn't going to be a huge apologetic argument. But I used it last Wednesday night at a study group for purposes of illustrating one particular apologetic point, so I thought I would share. First, though, some background.

The topic for the study group that night was supposed to be the second chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but the teacher quickly moved along off that to discuss Lewis' Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, Lord. (The bridging topic was Christ's humanity and divinity, testified to in chp 2, although moreso on the humanity side in that chapter. Chapter 1 is hugely devoted to Christ somehow sharing ultimate original divinity with the Father while being personally distinct compared to the Father. I missed that night, unfortunately, due to pseudo-flu, but we didn't get into much discussion of the theological precepts here.)

I am of course entirely aware (as was Lewis, for that matter) that matters are a little (or even a lot) more complex than that; but still, once various other positions are either granted or established, the Trilemma does make for a handy summary of the basic options.

We split into three groups, each of which was tasked with coming up with practical answers to imagined sceptical questions on one of the three Trilemma points. My group dealt with this imagined sceptic: "Jesus was no different than any other crazy person who claimed to be the Messiah; I can't believe in someone who claims he was born of a virgin and was resurrected from the grave."

I pointed out to our group that, depending on what else our imagined sceptic was willing to accept, he had already sort of shot his own point in the foot: if I come up to you and tell you that I was born of a virgin (though incidentally Jesus is never presented as doing so in the Gospels), then you might think I was crazy or (in various ways) lying to you. But if you think I've been scourged, crucified, stabbed and (in some sense) "covered over" (as St. Paul puts it--his word for burial is the same word we still use for talking about crawfish etouffé, by the way, as I like to point out for fun sometimes {g}), then I'm probably not just being crazy if afterward I tell you that I was "resurrected from the grave". Because there I am, talking to you, afterward. I might be mistaken about exactly what happened to me afterward, or I might be lying to you again (the whole thing being some kind of ruse, including details you've gotten around to believing for yourself regarding my crucifixion etc.). But you wouldn't have much grounds for thinking I'm crazy per se in this situation.

(Not that sceptics would be at all likely to say this, as I pointed out to my group. I just wanted to train them a little in spotting logical tics--in this case one inadvertently created by the teacher trying to come up with what 'a sceptic might say' on this topic. I promise, I'm getting to the Iron Man part of this journal entry soon, by the way!)

Well, we went over some other things among ourselves, and then someone gave a summary when it was our group's turn to report. But I wasn't sure an important point had been covered very well in the summary, and so after giving anyone else in the group a chance to add something for a few moments, I spoke up:

"Personally, I'd ask them if they've ever seen the movie Iron Man!"

Confused laughter from the group at large.

"I'm serious," I continued. "How many people here have seen the movie, raise your hands?" About half. "Okay, and you remember the plot of the movie, right?

"So: how many of you would say that the authors who wrote the plot for that movie are crazy? I mean crazy to the point of thinking they created all of reality; that it all still hangs together because of them; that they have the authority to forgive things that person X has done against some other person Y, regardless of whatever person Y might have to say about it; that they're older than Abraham and in fact that Abraham saw them when he was seeing 'God'; and that one day they'll judge all humanity, including you, deciding as the final authority on whether you'll be rewarded or punished, and why, and how? How many of you think the authors who wrote the movie Iron Man are that level of crazy?--raise your hands."

No one did.

"Well, around 2/3 of the most important plot elements of that movie were borrowed directly from stories attributed to Jesus. Two of those stories are widely regarded as the most famous stories in the world: the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There's also at least one more parable from Jesus in there, though it's less well-known; the one about the rich man who decides he's spend his money to build things to help him just become richer, and who's really satisfied with himself after he does so, but then learns that night that 'You fool! Tonight your soul is being required of you!--and then, these things, whose will they be?!'

"The parables of Jesus, especially those two most famous ones, are hugely respected as pieces of moral sanity all over the world, even by people who don't even think God exists. They've been so influential throughout history, that here in the 21st century a superhero movie, of all things, can be made where the most important points are borrowed directly from their plots!"

(I didn't bother to point out that the Iron Man comics have been using at least the Good Samaritan parable as origin plot since the 60s; after all, the writers of the movie could have just gone some other way, or not built in little signposts in the dialogue to show they they dang well knew what they were doing. "I give you... THE JERICHO!" Tony Stark says, boasting about his new weapon system--right before being ambushed in the desert, critically wounded so that he would have died, and then sacrificially nursed back to life by a good man whom we might have expected to only be one of 'the enemy'.)

"So," I continued, "you've got basically two options here. Either this guy you agree made these crazy, monstrously egotistical claims also came up with stories, or uniquely unexpected variations of stories, that have been recognized as examples of moral sanity for the past 2000 years; or else some anonymous moral geniuses who were following after him, treating him as the lord of their lives, invented those things and attributed them to him--and why exactly were paragons of moral sanity, of all people, following that guy as their supreme authority!?

"Which of course," I went on to mention, since I figured they might need to know--and since I hadn't heard anyone else bring this up yet (except me, briefly, in the small group), "is precisely why most sceptics don't in fact go this route. They think Jesus came up with the sane moral parables, if he existed at all (as most of them agree that he did), and then some crazy followers of his invented (or distorted by drastic misunderstanding) the wildly egotistical authority and identity claims attributed to him in all four Gospels."

That hardly settles any apologetic issues, of course. Mainly it's useful for getting a perspective on one of the oddities of the case. But I had been meaning to make use of the Iron Man connection ever since the movie came out, so I was happy to finally get around to it.

And hey!--I write for an apologetics journal, as it happens! {g} Thus, today's article.

(Next up on my list of things to do: using Wolfen, the book and the movie both, to illustrate a point about naturalistic ethics. Seriously: I had meant that to be our 'Halloween episode' this year, but got sidetracked by the pseudo-flu. So, since in a way it's about super-intelligent wolves being thankful for the existence of humans as their main prey animals, maybe I can put that up this Thanksgiving weekend! {lol!} We'll see.)


Jason Pratt said…
Just registering for comment tracking.
David said…
Man, I missed the "Jericho" allusion! (Well, the walls-tumbling-down one I got, but I missed the double meaning.)
Of course, you can then run the same argument on the apostles: either the closest and most influential followers of this great moral guru were liars (pretending he could work miracles), lunatics (having seen their leader executed, they all got a mass delusion that he came back to life), or they were loyally reporting the life-story of the Lord.
Jason Pratt said…
Note for David Ellis:

You left a comment on a subsequent journal entry (higher up the main page than where this one is), which may have been intended to go here instead.

If so, it occurred to me you might come back to this comment thread, and then be upset because your comment isn't here (thinking that blogger failed to post it or even that we deleted it.)

I'd rather answer it here than in the other thread, if you intended it here (and if it was addressed to me at all as a reply to the main entry. You might have intended it for the other David instead--I can't tell which "you" you were talking to. It was posted after the other David's, timewise, apparently.)


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