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?





    • Eddie
    • March 23rd, 2011

    Later, in the classifieds –

    ” … Beware: Christian Bale is working on this project. He is a method actor and may kindly ask you to please be taken off the crew while in character.”

  1. It does not undermine your point, but your example of Christian Bale is arguably explicitly condemned with Scripture, not just extrapolated from principles of sins. Ephesians 4:29 says to not let unwholesome talk escape your mouth, which I think everyone would agree that Bale’s rant qualifies as.

    Even with the Voluntarist viewpoint, you can condemn Bale.

    It seems best to me to make moral claims as specific as possible to allow for such extreme exceptions. ‘I should tell the truth as often as possible’ or something like that. I would not condone lying to get out of a comfortable, or perhaps even harmful situation. But death? Yes, lie.

    I think I land somewhere on the ‘moral absolutes with good reason’ camp, which might be somewhere between the two. I only advocate moving away from clear teachings in Scripture in the most extreme of circumstances. Most of us will never see a Hitler, however.

    • Stephen Hale
    • March 24th, 2011

    🙂 That’s not an absolute then, is it? In fact, it’s morality relative to the situation one finds themself in.

    That’s the thing with absolutes: you only need a tiny outlier to end their existence.

    • Having an exception does not make an absolute cease being that, provided the caveat is explained in the statement. You can always act in a certain way when permitted, and that is absolutely true. But sometimes you are not permitted.

      Perhaps I’m simply thinking of absolutes as ‘unbendable,’ but starting with a bending, flexible stick.

      I’ll have to give it more thought before replying.

    • Stephen Hale
    • March 24th, 2011

    Actually, in my intro to philosophy class (at a community college) I took the same position, James. Since then I became less and less content with that position.

    It began to feel to me like I was trying to make good sense fit into a false dichotomy. I think it’s one of those questions that someone was able to shape with a trigger word. At some point, someone was shocked at the development of “moral relativism,” and said “no, I’m the OPPOSITE!” and took a strong position in response to that (Oh, Hegel…) So this successfully framed the debate as one of moral relativism vs. moral absolutism.

    From there, we got the pushy rhetoric that followed… I think I blogged about this phenomena in my objective Christianity series a few months ago. Anyway.

    So I was never really content with that position, and kept an eye out for a different perspective on the issue that would help to see it more clearly.

    I think this issue (voluntarism v. intellectualism) does that for me. If I focus on that question, then the moral absolutism v. relativism question comes into more focus.

    My thoughts, anyway. 🙂


    • Stephen Hale
    • March 24th, 2011

    (Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that someone took the opposite position in order to be obstinate or anything, but because they were shocked at the theory (moral relativism), which they were convinced is untrue.

  1. June 1st, 2011
  2. June 6th, 2011
  3. February 2nd, 2012

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