Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sinestro Corps War, Pt. 1

[I re-read this around noon today and was ashamed. I did some re-editing and I like it more. Besides - its a blog, fer crying out loud! You get what you pay for! ;)]

Our local Waldenbooks is closing down in Stratford Square Mall. This is a real shocker, since it is the only bookstore in the mall and for Pete's sake - it's Waldenbooks! (Well, the economy is in a mess, right?)

But on the plus side, I was able to get two epic comic book series at a 40% off discount: The Sinestro Corps War, Volumes 1 & 2, and The Death of Captain America Volumes 2 & 3. So I got a hundred dollars of hard-bound goodness for sixty bucks. That ain't bad, not at all.

I had fun reading these - one set in deep space with "fate of the universe" overtones, the other, covert operations and brainwashing as villains try to capture the hearts and minds of the American people in an election year.

The thing that struck me as I read The Sinestro Corps War is how terrifically evil and powerful the bad guys were, and how MANY "non-lethal-force using" Green Lanterns got slaughtered BEFORE they were empowered by the Guardians of Oa to fight back as soldiers, using deadly force - because this is a WAR, and the bad guys are not going to stop until they have killed and slaughtered all opposition.

These old blue guys just don't seem that wise. They seem to think letting evil beings kill everyone is somehow noble. I don't think so.

As a young Christian, I hated the command, "Love your enemies." It sounded wussy and very nearly abusive, but I tried to obey it by not striking back at those who hurt me and ridiculed me (think geek in High School). This teaching has been misinterpreted by many to encourage submitting to hellish behavior constantly even to the point of enabling the abuser. You know how many times a bully feels bad for bullying? Never - unless a miracle occurs. How many times a verbally abusive and hateful person feels bad they "gave you a piece of their mind?" Never - unless a miracle occurs.

Thankfully, that's not what Jesus meant, not exactly. He does not want us to love evil or even hang around it. You have to look at the full context of his teachings - under extreme persecution, He tells His disciples to move on, rather quickly in fact (e.g. "When you see these signs (of human brutality) taking place, flee to Judea..." "If they will not receive you or listen to your message, shake the dust off of your feet (i.e. leave town)..."). He does however want us to be so strong on the inside that we CAN "turn the other cheek" - to desire our opponent's change of heart and their escape from Hell (or hellish behavior) and not let them destroy other souls.

Love, you see, is not just a feeling, but a directed act of the will to help another. It is a choice to act in the best interests of the person receiving the attention. It is a non-selfish, non-self-gratifying service for the personal and public good. Yes, it takes a great will power to do this in the face of cruelty, and, I must confess, a supernatural ability to love in this way. We get that ability in the real world from Jesus himself. He knows that - "Apart from Me, you can do nothing..."

This view of will as the source of heroic love is why the Green Lantern storyline is so powerful in my Christian fanboy eyes. The Green Lanterns, as the galaxy's police force, only want to - well - "to serve and to protect." They are not out to take control, to re-make all into their own image as Sinestro, once one of their greatest, did on the planet Korugar.

When I find myself being controlling - or wanting to take control - it is out of fear, not love. I have to stop myself. I may have to take charge in a bad situation, yes, but not take control. They are not the same thing. We may have to act decisively, for the good of those we serve. This is part of spiritual maturity, of responsible love, and this is the idea that lurks behind the concept of the current Green Lanterns, created some 50 odd years ago.

C. S. Lewis wrote the following to clarify what Jesus said about "loving your enemies" in regard to dispensing justice, even captial punishment (from Mere Christianity):
Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him?

No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment - even to death.

If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace.

Unfortunately, the writer of the Sinestro Corps War, Mr. Geoff Johns, after hitting this mark so well, goes on to have an Oan spout it is "emotions that make the Earthmen so powerful" and soon we are introduced to other "Lanterns" based on emotional spectra: Red for Anger, Blue for Hope, Indigo for Love (nee Lust), and so forth, just as Sinestro's power of his Yellow Ring is based upon Fear.

But in a fallen world, its easy to get it wrong, to mistake emotions for a person's will or desire. We are surrounded by so much fear and so little responsible love. It takes a great deal of will to not succumb to fear, but one dose of true love can conquer ANY fear instantly (watch a mother who's afraid of 'getting her makeup smudged' witness her child in trouble in a pool, and you will find she will dive in headfirst to save her offspring).

In a Christian's worldview, it is an act of God's will in a man's life to cause love, to seek the good of 'the other', to forgive, and to correct, to praise and to punish, and to make the best decision not for our own desires, but for the good of the many.

Self vs. selfishness - the self must die. But what of those who demand rulership? Who use fear and anger and all the power they possess to destroy others? What do you do?

You love them - but not the way they want. That's exactly what Jesus did.

You love them enough to warn them. That's exactly what Jesus did.

You love them enough to confront them. That's exactly what Jesus did.

You love them enough to tell them the truth. That's exactly what Jesus did.

You warn them that they will answer for their deeds. That's exactly what Jesus did.

Hear Jesus's warning cry over people who refused to change and come to God, listen to his love and care EVEN as He warns them. This is NOT an idle threat and these were cities filled with people who'd seen God's compassionate miracles first-hand:
Matthew 11:20-24
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.

"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you!

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!"

More bearable?

Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed on Earth! And the people are STILL going to be judged?! Whoa.

Man - that's hard.

In The Sinestro Corps War, the Green Lanterns are permitted to use lethal force for the first time in their history. Sinestro smiles when they do this, believing he has won - by showing the Guardians that the chaos of the universe can only be solved violently, in his way. Well, that's a bit of strange exposition in my mind. Giving someone the ability to use lethal force when faced with lethal force is not the same as becoming a mass-murderer or dictator.

But Sinestro's evil - and evil men suffer with twisted reasoning based on hatred.

Again, C.S. Lewis, following the quote above:
It is no good quoting 'Thou shalt not kill.' There are two Greek words: the ordinary word 'to kill' and the word 'to murder'. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew.

All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major- what they called a centurion. The idea of the knight - the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause is one of the great Christian ideas.

We may have to wage war on evil - but let us never become evil in doing so. We too will have to face a day of judgment.

After all the blood and death of the Sinestros fighting the newly-authorized Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner, with emptied power rings, end up fighting Sinestro in a mano a mano brawl. It's pretty intense and Sinestro, like Jordan, is a military man, and they bust each other up pretty well.

But do you know how it ends?

Sinestro loses. With a black eye, Hal Jordan leads Sinestro off to Oa with these words:

"One more thing, Sinestro - "

" - you're under arrest."

He won't kill him, because he does not have to. He's an officer of the law, not a vigilante. He's going to let the Guardians of Oa decide what to do with the renegade who started this. That's just too darn cool for words. That's faith. That's willpower.

In my geeky fanboy estimation, I think Hal Jordan has just achieved a Captain James T. Kirk level of coolness.

You can quote me on that.