My wife and I went to go see The Avengers over the weekend. I wanted to share a few observations. Here is a warning. I describe specific scenes so it will contain some spoilers—Read at your own risk!
Whether he intended to or not, Joss Wheedon has provided an excellent opportunity to connect younger Americans with the values that have made this country great while at the same time giving warning of the path we are on.
He did that in the portrayal of Captain America.
Several moments identify this.
Captain America can recognize the difference between the true God and those who claim the title
There are many moments of dialogue referring to Loki and Thor as gods. Loki relishes the role and longs for people to revere and worship him. In this movie, Thor does not seem to savor that role, though previously he had before his pride was broken.
When Thor shows up and takes Loki, Iron Man goes after him. Cap begins to follow but is urged not to because “these guys are basically gods.” In response, Cap makes a fitting statement for his character and era that I’m amazed Hollywood allowed: “There’s only One God, Ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
Captain Steve Rogers is a blast from the past, out of place in today’s modern America that has largely abandoned belief in God but has embraced a belief in just about anything that will indulge them.
But as history has shown, promises of freedom that have no moral center quickly spiral into anarchy and the death of thousands. You can see it when contrasting the revolution of the United States and that of France. Our Founders saw the importance of personal responsibility and that of the rule of law. In contrast, France threw off law and sought to fulfill desire without constraint. We started with the biblical belief of man’s sin. France started with the assumption of “Tabla Rasa” in which humanity is basically good; that it is society and its institutions which corrupt. Within a generation, France was calling for anyone who would stop the bloodshed and restore order. As a result, Napoleon rose to power.
Though nothing is explicit, it is clear that Cap still holds to the faith of our fathers prevalent in his generation. And no one, no matter how powerful, can take His place. Not Loki, nor Thor regardless of labels others may attach to them. Cap still holds to a foundation of faith that cannot be shaken and something our nation so desperately needs to return to.
Rather than a sign of weakness, this faith is the foundation of Cap’s character because it gives him a standard from which to understand right and wrong and recognize good from evil. It gives him the confidence to stand up to evil and call it what it is; something our culture is increasingly unwilling and unable to do.. This faith in God gives him a compassion for those weaker than him and the sense of responsibility to protect the lives and liberty of others. It explains why Cap is the one insisting that the team protect the civilians caught in the crossfire during the last sequence.
Along with his belief in God…
Captain America believes in his country and desires to inspire people to greatness
Cap is not afraid or unwilling to wear the Stars and Stripes. He still believes in the greatness and uniqueness of America among the world’s powers. He understands the miracle that is our form of government and Constitution. He knows that the hand of Providence was at work among those great men and women who founded this country and wrote our founding documents. No one thinks these men were perfect but we can still honor them, their ideas, principles and legacy. No one thinks our country has always done the right thing, but we have always sought to be a beacon of freedom. It is when other interests control our motives that that our actions become corrupted.
The greatness of America is something that has not been emphasized in our schools for at least 2 generations. Our education system likes to point out only the faults and sins of our nation. It systematically seeks to undermine the voices of our Founders and the relevance of our Constitution to modern life. Only by undermining our knowledge and confidence in our forefathers can tyrants hope to alter and abolish the miracle of liberty that truly exists in the Constitution with its balance of law and personal responsibility. By putting up with the idea that our founding documents are outdated and should be seen as “living documents” that need to adapt to our modern reality, we are setting ourselves up for a future in which the assurances of our freedom found in the Bill of Rights are stripped from us.
When those rights are no longer “unalienable”, when our rights are divorced from their source, our Creator, then they can be removed by the whims of popular opinion and tyranny.
The United States was built upon the truth that our rights originate from a source higher than the King or any government. No other nation can claim that. And it is in that fundamental but unprecedented truth that makes ours the longest surviving constitutional government.
The Avengers is a powerful reminder of our role as the Defender of Freedom. The United States regularly comes to the aid of those fighting against tyranny.
One scene, in which the evil Loki emerges publically in Europe and forces everyone to kneel in his presence, exemplifies this. Loki says:
“Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power…. for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
Strangely, everyone complies until one elderly man stands up and defies Loki. The man does this because he recognizes the voice of a tyrant. He has heard it before. “Look to your elder,” Loki says to the crowd with the intention of killing him. “Let him be an example to you.” Instead, this old man becomes an example of how that generation truly recognized tyranny because they had seen it with their own eyes and they knew what it cost to defeat it.
Recent generations of Americans don’t know what tyranny truly looks like because we’ve never really seen it and have not had to fight against a clearly defined enemy. All of our conflicts in recent memory have been far from our shores and required a small percentage of our population. As a result of our decreasing ability to recognize the evil of tyranny, we are running headlong into it. The anarchy, riots and occupations will only result in people crying out for some power to reestablish order. In craving the freedom to do what we want and indulge ourselves, we will ensure our own enslavement.
In this same confrontation with Loki, Captain America takes his place in front of the old man, shielding him and reminding everyone about the last time he had to come to Europe to save it.
Captain America and his Red, White & Blue remind the audience that America was instrumental in preventing the world from plunging into the darkness of Hitler’s Germany. We did not do it alone, but were able to rally those on the ragged edge of lost hope. It was the uplifted arm of Lady Liberty that inspired a continued resistance.
Captain America comes to the aid of those forced to their knees by tyranny and in so doing, inspires others to take their stand. That’s what our nation has historically done, but today we are following more than leading—following the world into socialism and a top down, mandating, life-controlling government.
Captain America reminds us of the greatness of our country. But even he struggles with the downward spiral in our culture.
Captain America knows we as a country have lost something
Steve Rogers is a man out of time. He was frozen in arctic ice before the end of WWII and only just awakened in modern America. Early in the film Steve, aka Captain America, was being recruited for the Avengers program and talking with the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, Director Nick Fury. Steve was still disoriented about his arrival in modern America and was trying to figure out his place in it.
For him, the United States is not the same country that he left. Steve was told that we won the war but he laments that he wasn’t told what we lost. He realizes it doesn’t feel like we won because many of the things he fought for are no longer upheld or regarded as virtuous. America has lost something and Steve is trying to put his finger on what it is. It gnaws at him because no one else seems to be bothered by it; the decay is obvious to him because he is seeing it with fresh and unacclimated eyes. He is like a frog that has been dropped into boiling water wondering why there are other frogs not trying to jump out.
Captain America represents a time and values that we as a nation and a people have wandered away from. The World War I & II generation, while not perfect, had a moral framework that was largely shared. Today we are more like the time of the Judges in the Old Testament when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
It is why “Judge not” is quoted more often in America than “For God so loved the world.”
Remember why Steve Rogers was chosen to be Captain America in last year’s movie. It wasn’t because he was the biggest and the strongest—he wasn’t. And it wasn’t because he was the best soldier—he wasn’t. Rather it was because of his character and integrity. He was a good man and only a good man could handle the responsibility to do right with the abilities that came through the super-soldier formula.
Later in The Avengers, as Cap is arriving at the base, he’s told that his uniform has been updated, but it still has the look of the Stars & Stripes. Steve wonders if it’s too old fashioned. But he is told by another agent that with the things that are coming and about to be revealed, the things soon coming to light that “people might just need a little Old Fashioned”. The integrity and strength of character that marked the previous generation as “the greatest” has become rare in modern life, but is desperately needed again.
Something is wrong with the character and heart of our country and Captain America knows it. That’s why Steve was the right man to be the leader of the group.
Captain America leads by strength of Character and Integrity
You may not have noticed, but Captain America was not the biggest, not the strongest, and not the smartest of the Avengers. And while he initially struggles to find his voice of leadership among this group of powerful people, they all eventually rally around him.
It goes back to why he was chosen to be the super-soldier. He was chosen because he was a good man who embodied courage, integrity and sacrifice. He had courage of heart long before he had strength of body.
Captain America leads by his character—everyone else on the team is significantly compromised. Iron Man, Tony Stark, is too egocentric and while he is charismatic, people tire of him quickly. Bruce Banner is a genius but is always trying to isolate himself. His alter ego, Hulk, is the embodiment of anger that is always ready to explode and lash out. That kind of rage cannot lead, for anger does not inspire to greatness which is one reason why the Occupy movement is doomed to failure. Thor is still learning the message of humility necessary to lead and has loyalties elsewhere. Both Black Widow and Hawkeye are former assassins with innocent blood on their conscious.
Captain America is the one they all look to. He is the one they can trust to do what is right. He is the one who is uncompromised, the one full of integrity, the one who most understands duty, responsibility and honor. Cap is the one willing to sacrifice and put himself on the line. The others follow his example.
Of all the heroes in the Avengers—Captain America may not be everyone’s favorite, nor even the most popular, but you will see his shield on more shirts than you will anyone else’s. Iron Man may have some of the best dialogue, Hulk may be the strongest, but if you were to ask any parent which one they would like their kid to emulate, it would be Captain America.
Captain America represents an opportunity to connect a younger generation with what made this country so great. His unease with the current state of our nation could help a younger generation open their eyes to the dangers we now face as we lose our moral foundation. Captain America also shows what it will take to put us back on the right path—a people of courage, character and integrity and most importantly… faith.