I went to see Avengers Infinity War on Sunday and it was great. The only problem is you have to keep up with the Marvel universe. To enjoy it you will have had to have seen nearly all the new Marvel films and it helps to watch a couple of geek previews on youtube too. I don't have enough room in my head for all the marvel stuff and need a reminder.
I know I promised no spoilers but here is a very minor one which got me thinking. The 'Bad Guy', Thanos has deiced that the universe contains too many people. So many people in fact that the resources of the universe cannot sustain them. So he proposes to select half the universes' population at random and kill them. This he says is morally good because selection is random and the half that survive will go onto live better lives.
Now in the film Thanos is the bad guy and the avengers are trying to stop him, but in our society we use the same logic as thanos all the time. In fact among the secular world it is the most common form of ethics used. It is held up as the most logical and rational way of making moral choices. For other geeks it is Mr Spock's favoured ethic, 'The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one'.
It's known the the trade as utilitarianism, where we choose the course of action which will cause least suffering. We hear this idea on the news all the time, 'We should bomb Syria, because even though we may kill some people more people will be saved.' or 'We should invade Iraq because if we don't millions could die.'
On the surface this type of reasoning seems good and sensible. After all if you are stranded in the ocean, it's better for two to survive than none. So you'd better chuck the old and weak off the boat or perhaps everyone will all die. Here we see the Thanos' logic but on a smaller scale. It's the same logic our leaders use while making moral choices. For some Thanos is not a bad guy but a good guy who has the courage to make difficult choices.
Thanos and Mr Spock's ethics are the opposite from a Christian view. In fact it is this type of logic that led to the death of Christ himself. The high priest Caiaphas said of Jesus, 'It is better for one man to die for the good of the people'. We see this type of thing all the time on the news. But it reduces people to mere numbers, not unique children of God. It de-humanises each person into a cold calculation.
Secondly, this type of ethic assumes that we can know the future consequences of each action. Which is not true except in very extreme circumstances. We simply don't know what will happen in the future. How many times have we said, 'but I didn't mean for this to happen'.
Now all this might sound a bit dramatic, has there ever been a real life Thanos who used this sort of thinking to kill millions of people? Sadly yes, in the 20th century many different leaders used this very ethic to turn an act of genocide into an act of goodness. Stalin for example in his five year plan said that it didn't matter that thousands died in building his dams, because millions will benefit from them.
So if the Thanos ethic of numbers is so evil, why do the powerful still use it to make moral choices? The answer is all to do with power. We are told by the powerful that it is better for one man to die for the good of the people, but somehow it is the never the powerful who make that sacrifice. We never see the powerful leader volunteer to suffer for the greater good. It's easy to rationalise suffering if you don't suffer.
The Christian God is the opposite, he opts to suffer with us in Jesus. Thanos proposes a cosmic lottery where half the population are killed for the greater good, but he is not part of that lottery. Jesus opts to suffer for every sacred human life.
So next time you hear a moral debate on the news, think about it. Are they using the ethics of numbers like Thanos or the ethic of sacredness like Jesus.