Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City 2 has been a commercial and a critical flop. That, probably, is no bad thing. It brings Frank Miller’s noir-ish, ultra-violent graphic novels to the big screen for a second time. The first Sin City was a huge box-office hit; now, nine years on, we must roll up our sleeves, snap on our suspender belts, and return to that titillating place of permanent midnight, where men are men and women are mostly prostitutes, said Kevin Maher in The (London) Times. For another critic, what kills it is its repetitive and unengaging plot. For a film that tries very hard to shock with its “cartoonish sex and violence”, Sin City 2 is remarkably “dull”, and endurance test, he said.
But at least it has one good thing going for it, even if it is only its lurid billboard advertising we see. It is a reminder to us of what we like to forget. Sin is behovely, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well – but only so long as we don’t forget that sin exists.
The world is divided by sin – not between sinners and non-sinners. We are all, each in our own way, sinners. The great divide now is between those who know that sin exists and those who deny its existence. Sin is behovely because the sense of sin is an essential part of our living the good life. It is nothing less than our sense of reality, part of our sense of the existence of God.
It is the modern age’s defining characteristic that it has lost the sense of sin – and it has lost this because it has lost its sense of reality, its sense of God. In little more than one generation – my generation – the rot began in earnest. It was there before, indeed the history of thought shows that it was always there, but in embryonic form. It has had a long gestation but with its birth we have been presented with a true monster.
I know parents of my generation, good people who firmly believe in God and who practice their religion devoutly and publicly. Their children, now adults, are also good people and a credit to their parents, their country. They have all the refinements – kindness, generosity, a sense of responsibility – engendered in them by the civilization we have the privilege of being part of. But there is a difference between them and their parents. They do not believe.
Does it matter? Will they be any less good, kind, generous and responsible than their parents for all that? Possibly not. Indeed, by all accounts they may be more so. Their parents were good parents and gave them the milk on which they were nurtured, milk filled with the vitamins of their own faith and vision of man’s origin and destiny. But the one thing which many in this generation did not take from that nourishing milk was faith and a belief in God, their creator. The milk with which they nourished their own children in some way failed to be transmitted – on a scale not seen between any two generations in recorded history. If this is an exaggeration please cite chapter and verse to disprove it. Nor is it an exaggeration to predict some dire consequences of this failure.
No society that we know of in history has had the kind of flourishing which the societies marked by Christian civilization have had. It is in these societies and in this civilization that our ideas of the qualities of justice, equality, kindness, mercy and a sense of the unique value of a human life have evolved. They have evolved out of a living source, even when the reality of that source itself has been doubted. That source is the Judaeo-Christian religion.
The big question however, is how long can this flourshing last beyond the outright rejection of the source from which it springs. The result of the cultural chasm which has now opened up in the West is the unravelling of the entire fabric of societities founded on those values. What we call the “triumph of the West” is under threat. It is under threat because its source and the ultimate vision which sustained it seems to have died in the minds hearts of those who have inherited it.
Has any civilization in history outlasted the force which gave it life? In the majority of cases those forces were undoubtedly physical and brutal. Walter Benjamin observed that there is “no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” He is right in most cases but to lay this charge against Christian civilization is to ignore what is at the heart of this culture. Where brutality and barbarism accompanied the spread of Christian civilization it did so in contravention of its very essence. Invariably the barbarisms which afflicted Christian societies were eventually tamed by the beauty and power the Christian message, leaving us with the jewels we have in expressions of faith – in art, music and literature – and flowing out from those, the treasures of human expression in all those forms as well.
Will all this now survive the loss of faith, the loss of vision which was at their heart? The signs are not propitious. Art has become banal at best – think of those sickening banners we see hanging in churches – and at worst, nihilistic. Music, for the most part, has become incomprehensible and is a weak caricature of what it was. Literature, for the most part, speaks of little more than destruction, pessimism and death without redemption – when it is not wallowing in lust which it tries to pass off as love.
If these artefacts are the manifestations of contemporary civilization, what does it augur for the future human agents who will live, breathe and look for nourishment in that civilization? What happens when those who look out from within a culture see nothing beyond the vision presented in these artefacts? Do we really think that the human spirit can flourish in this desert? Will each generation which follows the last not slide further and further into the abyss, as the residue of goodness which they have inherited becomes fainter and fainter?
If the vision of reality contained in these words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, written nearly 2000 years ago, shortly after the dawn of Christianity, is now not just ignored but vehemently denied and its adherents persecuted for believing it, the consequences cannot but be other than apocalyptic.
It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor anyone else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these beings, in order to the accomplishing of what he had himself determined with himself beforehand should be done, as if he did not possess his own hands!
For with him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit by whom and in whom, freely, he made all things, to whom also he speaks, saying, Let us make man after our image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), he taking from himself the substance of the creatures, and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world.
Deny this vision, reject this truth, live life according to that denial and surely things will fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Without this vision all we are left with is the misery of Sin City – and without even knowing that we should call it what it is.