Christian Bale and the Nature of Sin
Is Christian Bale a sinner? Listen to the rant below, but be warned: it’s very vulgar!
(before we move on, we should also note that Bale apologized repeatedly for this, and others who know him have said it is quite out of character. Our culture either diefies or demonizes celebrities, but they are precisely as human as the rest of us.)
There are two explanations for sin:
1) Intellectualism — God realizes intellectually what is a sin. God has some sort of criteria (usually God’s own character) for deciding what sort of things humans should not do. For example, some have suggested that God’s criteria is “what encourages life?” If that is the case, sin is simply whatever discourages life.
In intellectualism, it is likely that a number of things are sin which the Bible never got around to mentioning. It is a sin to spray paint dirty words on someone’s car, for example. The Bible never mentions this because neither cars nor spray paint had been invented, though it still may be a violation of… well, whatever the criteria is for determining sin.
Intellectualism is also somewhat testable: if one decides what they think the criteria is for labelling sin, then the sins mentioned in the Bible can be compared to the thesis. If they match closely, then you have evidence for your view.
Note also that intellectualism encourages one to see sins mentioned in the Bible as principles. Since the view expects to find themes or principles that sin is a violation of, it is looking for these themes or principles! This view puts the emphasis on goodness, not sin, and makes sin just a violation of goodness. The Bible might mention a few specific sins, but they are only sins because they violate the principles.
2) Voluntarism — God voluntarily selects certain things to be sin. In theory God could do this arbitrarily, though few people believe that God acts this way in practice. In voluntarism, it would be theoretically possible for God to have decided it is a sin to touch kittens, or other random things. I think most people think this sounds stupid at first, but it has some advantages. Voluntarism emphasizes the independence of God, and God’s power: “Something is right simply because God decides it is right.”
Note that, in this view, you don’t have any way to know if something is sin if it isn’t specifically mentioned in divine revelation. That means, if the Bible didn’t tell you it’s a sin, you don’t know it’s a sin. See also that this view pushes someone strongly towards seeing Scripture as a list of rules and commands. At least, the sins mentioned are independent commands, not principles. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but this view pushes in that direction.
What’s all that got to do with Christian Bale?
The things Christian Bale did in that rant are not explicitly banned in Scripture. Sure, it’s unwise. if one reads Proverbs you can find a number of things Bale should have done or should not have done, but Proverbs are not commands. There is no sin mentioned in Scripture that Bale committed. I think, though, most of us would agree that Bale sinned here. He may not have violated any specific commandment, but he sinned. That is intellectualism.
Intellectualism opens the door for a wise application of commandments. Since intellectualism emphasizes principles behind lists of sins, it makes it possible that, in certain extreme cases, the right thing to do is normally a sin, though it wouldn’t be a sin in this specific case. So it was right for pastors to try and kill Hitler, even though this is normally a sin. It was right for Rahab to lie to protect Hebrew spies, even though lying is a sin. Some might call this moral relativism, but I would call it wisdom. People that see moral relativist bogeymen behind every door do not like this view. However, this view says Bale sinned in this clip.
Voluntarism expects loving obedience to a list of commandments out of love and respect for a God who is wiser than human beings. Even when it seems to our small minds that we are doing evil, we must obey what God has revealed to us. This allows for moral absolutism, but, if applied faithfully, it is not very flexible in applying wisdom. This view is not able to genuinely say Bale sinned in this clip.
Some voluntarists would also endorse things like pastors working to assassinate Hitler (it’s always about Hitler, isn’t it?) by creating a hierarchy of sins: some sins are worse than others. When one is caught between a rock and a hard place, they must choose the lesser of two evils. In this way, they avoid the charge of moral relativism, but also avoid saying Hitler should be left alone, or condemning actions the Bible applauds. I think this view is a bad idea, though; since the whole view is rooted in the authority of God, is one willing to say “God decided this one more than God decided that one?”
It is probably clear which view I prefer, but what do you folks think?