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Robocop – Movie Discussion – Important Questions for the Church Today

I’m a little late on this movie discussion, but I still wanted to weigh in because I think Robocop brings up some important issues that we, as humans, and as Christians, need to think carefully about.  One of the fundamental questions of the movie is what makes a man.  I’m not talking about the ideas of quality and character—those things that make a man a man, as opposed to a boy.  I’m talking about a question of essence.  What constitutes a human

Shepherd Project Ministries just conducted a workshop specifically designed around some of the questions the Millennial generation is facing, and reasons why they may be leaving the church (among other things – learn more here, we may be coming to your city!!!).  One of our breakouts had to do with science.  Here’s the description: 

More than 50% of Millennial students expect to go into a science-related field, yet very few of them have ever heard a single Christian message that touches on a scientific issue; and those few messages that have addressed a scientific issue have been almost exclusively anti-evolution apologetics.  Why is science such a taboo subject in the church?  Are science and faith part of incompatible worldviews?  What facets of a “scientific” worldview are at odds with Christian faith?  How can we equip Millennials to engage scientific disciplines and issues with a robust faith?

Another closely related workshop had to do with “untouchables”—issues that, for various reasons, the church just doesn’t touch—and many of those “untouchables” are science-related.  Here is the description for that breakout: 

Surveys indicate that Millennials are frustrated at the church’s unwillingness to deal with difficult cultural topics and that this reluctance leaves them unsure how to navigate the complicated gray areas that seem to make up so much of modern life.  What are the topics that we are afraid to address?  Why are we afraid to address them?  How can we overcome this reluctance and provide Millennials with a practical Christian worldview that doesn’t leave them wondering how to glorify God when “tough topics” come up?

In both workshops, science and technology played a significant role.  The reality is that scientific breakthroughs are usually fraught with theological, moral and philosophical dilemmas.  The other reality is that the church is often reluctant to engage in these discussions/dilemmas. Whether they are ill-equipped, afraid, or simply don’t realize the issue, these discussions need to be addressed in the first place. 

The church may not be addressing these issues, but, by golly, Hollywood IS.  And if we are simply willing to pay a little bit of attention to some of the things Hollywood brings to the forefront, we will likely gain some insight on what the issues are. Issues on which we need to be prepared to address.  And if we pay attention to some of the sci-fi movies (or TV shows[1]), we may just find ourselves a little more cutting-edge than before.

That brings us back to Robocop.  A cop was in an explosion and there was almost nothing left of him.  Normally he would have died, but with experimental robotic technology, he was able to live on.  All that remained of Alex was his face and much of his brain, his lungs and a hand.  They put him inside of a robot’s body and he was able to live. 

This brings up the question of what makes a man.  Certainly he is more than his limbs, but when there is nothing left but a face, it doesn’t seem quite so obvious.   Is it his brain?  His soul?  What constitutes those things? 

Lest our answers be too simplistic, they go on to push the matter into even greyer territory.  Alex, as a man, is less decisive than his fully robotic counterparts.  It slows him down in battle.  The funding and the push behind this experimentation is driven by politicians and their desire for big contracts.  It’s all about money and power.  Alex is just a tool to get there.  They want their robots to police the city, but the people want humans, people with a conscience.  Alex is the solution – a robot with a conscience.  When that conscience becomes a hindrance, however, the powers that be decide to “fix” it.  They robotize his brain even more, so that they can turn off his emotions and even his free will.  In fact, they make it so that they can literally turn him off, all of him, at will.   

All along the way, you almost have to ask yourself, (or at least I did), At what point does he stop being human?  When he looses 90% of his body?  When other people gain control over his brain?  When he can be shut off like a computer?  When his emotions are gone? 

Hollywood’s answer to this, at least in Robocop, is that he doesn’t stop being human.  It’s that old saying, “You can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.”   You can put Alex in a robot, but that doesn’t make him a robot.  Every time they try to take away his feelings, change his brain, override something so they gain control, his brain triumphs and he regains what they tried to take from him.  His wife and son are able to reawaken his feelings.  His feelings give him strength to overcome the manual override controls, etc.   

It’s just a silly movie; it’s not real life, right?  Well, we may not be quite there yet—creating robo-humans from a little bit of remaining brain matter and an organ or two—but the basic questions about life are incredibly relevant.  It’s relevant, in relation to many of the scientific issues of the day—abortion, cloning, various fertility issues.  The questions about brain manipulation and control are actually really relevant when you look at different psychological problems, like depression and schizophrenia and dementia, etc. 

Science and technology in war and government are also important questions for us to think about.  The movie is full of political debate about the pros and cons of using machines for law enforcement.  We may not be deciding about a bunch of robocops just yet, but we do have drones.  We do have the ability to fight a war without actually being present.  We do have cars that can notify us when we stray from our lanes—just how far away is it to have cars that drive for us?  And if that’s foreseeable, is a Robocop really that hard to imagine?   All of these scientific breakthroughs bring with them a Pandora’s box of moral and ethical and theological dilemmas that we need to think through very carefully (as Christians, as a nation, as humans).  Not only do we need to think them through, but we need to equip the next generation to be able to think them through—logically, Biblically, carefully.

This question of what makes a man isn’t just important for politics and science, however.  It’s also an important issue for theology, for our understanding and interpretation of the Bible.  The very issue of Jesus being fully God and fully man requires some careful thinking about what is a man, about DNA, about the traits we inherit from our fathers, etc.  Also, there has been a lot of discussion (in literature and in Hollywood especially) about the Nephilim—generally presented as the hybrid offspring between man and the spiritual realm (angels or demons).  Understanding how to interpret Genesis 6:4, where they are mentioned, requires some scientific and theological consideration.  (To learn more about this issue, read here.)  I could go on, but you get the idea.

You may or may not enter into any discussions with anyone about Robocop itself, but I hope that you will have some discussions about the dilemmas it presents.  Probably more importantly, I hope you’ll be challenged to think critically and theologically about these issues, and to help others do the same.  We need to do this—both for the life and future of the next generation in the church, and for the life and future of our nation and our world.  These hypothetical situations are fast becoming a reality—faster than we think. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • What makes a human, human?  What is the essence of humanity? 
  • How much of yourself do you think you can lose, before you are no longer you?
  • How close do you think we are scientifically to things they could do in Robocop (with robotics, with brain manipulation, with a brain communicating with hardware and software, etc.)?
  • Do you think the Bible has anything to say about these scientific and moral dilemmas? 
  • If the movie was real, how would you feel about a robotic police force and why?
  • How would you feel if you were Alex’s (Robocop’s) wife—and your flesh and blood husband came back to you as a machine?  Still his thoughts and emotions, still his soul, but no longer his body? 
  • How do you think the church has typically responded to difficult scientific issues like this?  (Avoidance?  Over-simplistic answers?  Anger?  Grace?  Ignorance of the issues in the first place?  Etc.)
  • Have you ever had scientific questions that you wanted/needed some Biblical perspective on?   Were you able to find it?  If so, how? 
  • Do you feel that the church and science are at odds with each other?  Are they compatible? 

  Click here to read quotes from Robocop.

[1] The quirky show Eureka, on Netflix, is FULL of these kinds of issues.  It’s all about geniuses living in a small town who research and develop cutting-edge technology…and all that goes wrong because of it.  It’s quirky and fun, but it also shows how some of our great ideas can cause unforeseen problems.  It shows how technology both improves and endangers our lives.  It also raises some interesting questions about life similar to those in Robocop


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