Batman, Bonhoeffer, and Respecting Authority

“I feel weird fighting cops.”

I’ve been thinking that a lot in the last few months while playing Batman: Arkham Origins. Since this game takes place early in the Dark Knight’s career, he’s yet to make any allies in his war on crime, let alone any in the Gotham City Police Department (he doesn’t even play nice with Lt. Jim Gordon). I fought some cops as I navigated Gotham, but I figured it was self-defense since they didn’t know if Batman existed or if they could trust him. Yet something didn’t feel kosher about beating them up.

Then came the point where Batman must infiltrate GCPD headquarters to acquire some information, which leads to the usual Arkham shenanigans of sneaking and combat. The in-game justification is that most officers in the GCPD are corrupt, taking bribes from crime lords, so in Batman’s eyes, they’re no different than criminals. During a Predator Encounter, I heard these officers talking about killing Batman (i.e. me, the player), which only solidified the Caped Crusader’s statement from the previous cutscene. I was grateful to see Jim Gordon was, as Alfred put it, “the one good apple in the bad bunch,” but my uneasiness still didn’t waver.

In most games where players fight cops, they’re playing as criminals, like in the Grand Theft Auto series. Those games’ negative perception of cops was one of my many reasons for finding them unappealing, but at least I knew where they stood. Arkham Origins, however, swims in the murky gray. Ironically, it’s because Batman sees the world in black and white: people are either law-followers or criminals, regardless of whether or not they carry a badge. While he’s a vigilante, he isn’t a bad guy. He (sort of) works with the police by having Alfred contact them to come pick up the criminals he captures and leaves them the evidence he collected. This dichotomy only added to my uneasiness.

What made this feeling weird is I don’t have it fighting against other “corrupt” authority figures. I come from a military family and hate seeing American soldiers be demonized by politicians and the media, yet I have no qualms about fighting the military in video games. But battling the police bothers me. Part of it might be all the recent tragedies/controversies regarding so-called police brutality. But even before that I heard people spout phrases like, “@#$& the police!” Rap music is replete with anti-cop vitriol. I think it’s because the police are the most immediate government officials most people deal with. They enforce laws; they keep the peace. Criminals rightfully see them as enemies. Others—like people who are pulled over for speeding—see them as nuisances. Not only will they be late for work, they’re financially inconvenienced by the speeding ticket. This breeds resentment against cops. Adding reports of alleged police brutality is like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Are there crooked cops out there who are abusing their authority and/or neglecting their duties? Yes, but they’re a minority. I believe most police officers deserve the utmost respect for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make.

On the other hand, I, like Batman, have a strong sense of justice, so I want to see evildoers punished. Despite my uneasiness about fighting cops, I’m inclined to rebel against a government that is abusing its power. If I lived in a country suffering under the boot of a tyrannical dictator, I’d join a resistance movement.

But then there’s what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (v. 1-2).

“Aye, there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said.

It seems like a paradox. God establishes all rulers. Does that include the likes of Adolf Hitler, Sadam Hussein, and Kim Jong-il? Christians are commanded to overcome evil, but what if that evil is perpetrated by the leaders God has, apparently, appointed?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Image courtesy of www.religionnews.com.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, faced this dilemma when the Nazis seized control of his beloved Germany. As a pastor, he believed the above Scripture, but he couldn’t deny the evils the new government was committing. So, he made the difficult decision of joining a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. While the plot failed and he was captured and executed by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer is a hero to many people (including me). But were his intentions justified?

Perhaps the answer lies in something Bonhoeffer said: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” It may not be our right to kill the tyrants—that privilege belongs only to God—but I would argue Christians must do whatever they can to combat their evils.

Paul’s fellow apostle Peter offers some related advice. When questioned by the Sanhedrin about why the Apostles kept preaching against their orders, he replied,

We must obey God rather than men

Acts 5:29

Proclaiming the Gospel defied authority and broke the law, but God’s commands trumped man’s laws. Peter probably had Isaiah 55:8-9 in mind:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

The Sanhedrin obviously didn’t know or understand the mind of God or else they’d let the Apostles preach. But the Apostles never tried to kill the Sanhedrin or usurp their authority, which might have happened in most similar cases. Instead they simply continued to do what was right and let God deal with their antagonists.

Going back to Arkham Origins, Batman arguably does the same thing. He never kills any of the crooked cops or tries to become judge, jury, and executioner with criminals. He gathers evidence and captures bad guys, but he leaves the justice process to the police and legal system.

These are just a few of my own thoughts on this multifaceted and difficult topic. Feel free to discuss it further in the comments. As my French ancestors (hopefully) said during WWII, “Viva le resistance!”