Hacksaw Ridge is an inspiring film with troublesome implications. It declares the quintessential Abrahamist ethos, but with a silver lining.
This weekend I went and saw one of the new movies that came out. Hacksaw Ridge. This film is one of the best portrayals of the Abrahamist mindset that I have yet come across.
Summary of Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s first film since his 2006 Apocalypto. It tells the story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who served in Okinawa during WWII. In the film, Doss distinguishes himself by saving the lives of dozens of soldiers without the aid of a weapon. The real story, however, takes place earlier in the film.
Prior to deploying to Okinawa, Doss has (putting it mildly) a hell of a time in basic training. He is capable by all indications and thoroughly sincere in his intentions. This would have worked well in his favour had it not been for one small hiccup. He had made an oath earlier in life to never physically touch a weapon.
Well, that would cause some problems.
Under threat of court martial and imprisonment, Doss steadfastly refuses to either resign or handle a firearm. He is physically assaulted by the other soldiers who were punished on his behalf and subject to much psychological abuse at the hands of his trainers, and yet he holds firm. He feels a moral obligation to BOTH serve in the war and never touch a weapon. This is the sort of stubbornness Abrahamists pride themselves for. It is the natural consequence of the “Divine Command” theory of deontological ethics.
Divine Command in Hacksaw Ridge
To a sincere Abrahamist, morality is determined by divine command. God determines the rules and the rules are inflexible once he determines them. There is little to no room for making a judgement call because a conscious moral arbitrator would not make rules that contradict each other. Having made an oath to God, Doss did not have the freedom to touch a weapon. For similar reasons he lacked the freedom to resign. It is this very lack of freedom that Abrahamists perceive to be their greatest asset.
Modern Scenarios Similar to Hacksaw Ridge
In modern times, there was an example of this type of thinking playing out. The whole issue concerning the baking of a gay wedding cake had divine command theory at its core. A gay couple approached a Christian baker and asked him to make a cake for their upcoming wedding. The baker refused on the grounds that he could not participate in a gay wedding in any capacity. Many on the Left may have been tempted to interpret this event to mean that the baker was “uncomfortable” making the cake. I would have to disagree with that. My sincerely religious upbringing instilled an entirely different mindset. To the Christian baker, making the cake would constitute being an accomplice in a moral crime. His level of “comfort” was entirely out of the question.
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Clearly, this baker would have enjoyed Hacksaw Ridge and identified strongly with it. The challenges of defining your standards and holding to them in the face of any and all consequences is a powerful theme among many Abrahamists. To many, this would be the ideal story to have on their tombstone.
That puts us at a bit of an impasse.
When socially unacceptable behaviour becomes morally obligatory among some people we are put in a no-win situation. Either they violate their morality or they behave anti-socially. Either we violate someone’s freedom of conscience or we allow them to continue engaging in unacceptable behaviour. Either way, there is a sacrifice to be made. We ought to be willing to impose standards while owning the fact that doing so might constitute a serious affront to human dignity. We ought to embrace that affront rather than deny its existence.
Is There Something to be Admired about Hacksaw Ridge?
There is a silver lining in all of this. Those Abrahamists who are as stubborn as Hacksaw Ridge’s Desmond Doss and the Christian baker are usually the inner-directed Abrahamists who take their faith seriously. Ironically, those who take their faith seriously are those who lose it most completely. Those who fully accept and own the consequences of their beliefs make the best apostates. Why? Because to them it is necessary to know they are right. This makes for two possibilities. Either they are so brainwashed that they smother any doubt that pops into their head or seize on that doubt and earnestly seek to rectify it.
Most of the remaining Abrahamists are pathetic, other-directed liberals who remain believers as a matter of personal preference. They never completely accept a religion or reject it. Arguably they never truly apostatise because they lack the faculties to have genuine opinions. Fortunately, these constitute the liberal mass of Western believers who can easily be coaxed into compromising. These people change with the current. If Hacksaw Ridge depicted a liberal Christian, it would have been a boring and pointless film. There would have been no struggle. Picture a Joel Olsteen follower putting their career in jeopardy by refusing to make a cake or touch a weapon. It’s unthinkable. These people are like clay in the hands of society. At the end of the day, it is of little consequence what they believe.
As to Desmond Doss and the Christian baker, the more stubborn they are, the more sincere and brainwashed they are.
There is little to do with those who have been thoroughly brainwashed. If they have been conditioned to the point that compromise is impossible, they have also been conditioned to the point that debate is impossible. These are the truly dangerous people. Fortunately, the more connected society becomes the more difficult it will be to condition people to this point and the scarcer these characters will become.
The sincere ones, however, are promising. These are the best apostates. Considering the Christian baker, his decision to decline to serve the gay couple need not have had any emotion involved. His feelings regarding homosexuality were entirely irrelevant. Rather than being knee jerk homophobia, the baker’s decision constituted ownership of his beliefs and their consequences. Ownership, paradoxically, requires a degree of consciousness that is absent among the liberal Abrahamists. That same drive that prevented him from servicing a gay wedding might have instead driven him to debate his beliefs. Unfortunately, the experience has almost certainly ossified his opinions by now. He has sacrificed too much to give them up.
All-in-all, I consider Hacksaw Ridge to be a good film and worth seeing. Whatever you think of Mel Gibson, the film is less about ideology than it is about character. Gibson appears to have a well-defined vision of what he considers heroic. I imagine that the protagonist in Hacksaw Ridge reflects the type of character Gibson would like to be. I do not consider his taste to be half bad. Desmond Doss is honest to himself about what expects from himself and is willing to pay the price for it. If you cringe a little bit admiring an Abrahamist’s convictions, remind yourself that these convictions are often born of a sincerity that makes for prime apostasy material. Turn these people from their faith, and you have the greatest enemies of Abrahamism that the World has ever known.
Jason Calhougney writing for the Apollo Institute of Reason AIR Review©