Imagine you find out about a planned suicide bombing, which was to take place in the next few hours. Up to 80 innocent men, women, and children could be massacred.
And imagine you have the power to stop it. You need only give the order, and a Drone would shoot a satellite-guided missile into the house where the terrorists are gathered.
A quick strike.
Minimal collateral damage.
And you’d save the lives of many innocent people.
However, there’s one small problem.
And it’s this small problem that’s explored by the intense new movie ‘Eye in the Sky’, starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman.
[Warning: spoilers ahead]
When the ‘Small Problem’ Is a Little Girl
Would you allow an innocent child to die to save the many?
‘Eye in the Sky’ is not a light feel good movie. It’s a military thriller that grips you with vice-like intensity. Senior British officers (played so well by Rickman and Mirren) and their political masters grapple with the morality of taking out the terrorists in a drone strike (and stop the planned bombing) if it means the death of a nearby little girl.
Would you authorise a strike that would probably save the lives of scores of people, if a little girl, someone’s daughter and grand-daughter, would die?
It’s easy to make a calculated decision when you’re far removed from the situation. But the power of this movie is that it draws you into the reasoning – and raw emotion – of having to make such a difficult ‘damned if you do – damned if you don’t’ decision when the clock is against you.
And so this raises a number of important issues:
1) The Elephant Sized Drone in the Room
Is War Ever Right?
This movie does a great job of grappling with the morality of war. You see it in the buck-passing: the senior military officers want the strike but need the authorisation of the civilian leadership.
But the civilian leadership doesn’t want to make the decision: they keep passing the decision up to their superiors (even going as far up as the PM of Britain). It was very frustrating to watch – would someone just make the call! – there were audible groans from the audience at the indecision.
Now Christians can understand this hesitation: taking someone’s life is deadly serious (no pun intended).
And so, it raises the question: is warfare ever right? Does God ever approve using lethal force to stop evil?
Some would say no: pacificism is the only Christian response to warfare. Others (like myself), believe there’s theological justification for using limited lethal force, in very limited circumstances.
‘Eye in the Sky’ seems to agree with my view that there’s a limited place for warfare (it didn’t feel like an anti-war movie), but it made the point that we must be careful how/when we use lethal force.
2) Issues of Life and Death Confirm What We All Instinctively Know: Objective Morality Exists
But can Atheism account for objective morality?
The proposed killing of the terrorists divided the civilian leadership. The British Attorney General insisted it was legal, and therefore should go ahead. But the rest of the leadership wasn’t so clear.
You see, they weren’t just grappling with the legality of the situation, but with the morality of it: just because taking life was legal, didn’t automatically make it moral. They knew there was a difference.
But if, as Atheism asserts, morality is nothing more than arbitrary rules that we make up (as Phillip Adams says, akin to ‘road rules’), then as long as it’s legal, isn’t it automatically moral?
According to Eye in the Sky, no.
And at the end of the day, we all know that just because a society or a government makes certain rules, doesn’t necessarily make them ‘right’. But how can Atheism account for this difference between what’s legal, and what’s moral?
On the other hand, the Christian view of reality, which asserts a transcendent God-given morality stitched into the fabric of reality, makes perfect sense of this legal/moral distinction.
3) War is Costly on The Combatants
Soldiers and politicians have to live with their decisions.
Another powerful feature of this film was how it showed the emotional cost of killing – especially morally dubious killing – on the combatants. From the young 20-something-year-old Drone aircrew; to the military and civilian leadership: most were torn by their decision.
And again, it’s interesting to note that few people feel this way about killing animals. But legally killing another innocent human being – why is it such a big deal, if, as Atheism asserts, we’re nothing more than animals ourselves?
Rickman’s Powerful Last Movie
Sadly, this was Alan Rickman’s last movie. But it was possibly his most powerful. It raised a lot of good questions about the morality of war. And these are issues we should grapple with, because war is a permanent feature of this fallen world we’re in.
What are your thoughts about war? Is it ever right? Or is it always wrong? Feel free to leave a comment below.