Well I just finished watching the latest rendition of The Mummy, and I’m not usually much of a critic, but indulge me for a second. I feel like I just watched every major trope and stereotype that Hollywood has to offer with few to none of them being done well. The bromance was forced, the romance was stale, the action was chaotic and much too contrived, the plot was uninteresting, and the villain’s character development gave us little more than daddy issues to explain her rampage. What’s worse, a bad movie tried making a philosophical claim about evil and, predictably enough, it only made things worse.
Evil was portrayed as creepy dark monster things that do bad stuff and that was about the extent of it. This might seem like a benign trope within entertainment. But The Mummy made blatantly wrong (and dangerous) statements that revealed troubling assumptions about the intrinsic goodness of mankind (with evil being external to him), the ability of mankind to be his own salvation, and his ability to harness the power of evil to do good.
The description of evil given by The Mummy is little more than a poorly done humanistic explanation of how humans could do bad things but really be good at heart. I’m not saying that was the goal of the producers, but it was plain that whoever produced this mess of a CGI fest was operating with humanistic assumptions about human nature.
So What Does Humanism Say About Human Nature?
Well to give you an idea, here’s the first line from the most recent version of the Humanist Manifesto:
“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability
and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
Contrary to the classical Western understanding of humanity rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition which maintains a state of human depravity when left to our own nature, humanism affirms a more progressive view of humans as beings that are ever improving and ultimately desire good. Humanism comes in many forms, and one does not even need to be a humanist per se to have a humanistic view of human nature. But the progressive ideology that humans are ultimately decent creatures who all long for goodness is the core of humanism, so we will refer to it as a humanistic view for the sake of being able to give such an idea a title.
Given that the predominant view within modern society seems to be that humans are all just decent people at heart, this poses a problem when we observe the world around us. How can humans be such good moral agents when we cause so much suffering and evil to each other? Well the answer given in the movie is a simple one, really. Evil does not come from within us. Evil is external to us.
This may not be the best humanistic answer to the problem of evil, but since this movie has now been seen by millions it seems more necessary to refute the position of the movie even if some humanists answer the problem in ways that are far more sophisticated.
1: The Mummy Portrays Evil As a Force External to Mankind
When the story of the main antagonist is told in the beginning of the movie, we learn she called upon evil in return for power. We see evil come into her world and corrupt her. It was something she did not possess prior – it was imparted to her when she asked for it.
Later on we meet a character named Jekyll who runs an organization aimed at finding, containing, and curing evil. He suggests that evil, like any other disease, is one that can be cured. He then proceeds to inject himself with a serum which visibly suppresses his emerging alter-ego, Mr. Hyde.
The Mummy seems to be confused on what exactly evil is -whether it is a mindless virus or an intentional agent of destruction. But Jekyll later makes the defining statement which summarizes the movie’s apparent perspective on evil, “Evil is a shadow existing just outside our world waiting to come in.” Evil is outside of us. Humans do not cause evil, we are made victims through its influence on us.
Now this idea might superficially make us feel better about ourselves and all of the evil things we do because if evil isn’t a part of us but rather some sort of force or disease that infects us, then we are victims too, right?. But does this description of evil actually correspond with reality? Or does it even tell us anything about what evil actually is?
Well, not really. I will be the first to say that a brief look inwards reveals a lot of desires that are undeniably evil and undeniably mine. I can’t blame anything external for this. My evil desires come from me, and I can’t think of any way that is not the case unless I blame something controlling my mind. Unlike Cruise’s character in the movie, I don’t think there is an evil mummy lady controlling me so I will just set that theory aside and own my internal evil.
I will be the first to say that one look inwards reveals desires that are undeniably evil and undeniably mine. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, if we say evil is external to us, what are we really saying? That there are creepy scary things causing otherwise good humans to fall? That there is a “dark side of the force?” This still doesn’t explain the essence of evil or why the “dark side” is objectively any worse than the “light side” or why creepy scary things are objectively worse than things we don’t find creepy and scary. After all, we can all think of that one kid from school who thought Satan worship was cool and tortured animals in his backyard. That seems creepy and bad to us, but why is it creepy and bad? Blaming an outside force that fits a creepy scary description doesn’t tell us why creepy and scary is bad.
Finally, blaming creepy scary things or some sort of dark force for our evil actions only passes the buck in explaining why we engage in evil. Suggesting that evil is external to mankind does not explain why humans can even be tempted by evil. Evil shouldn’t even be appealing to us unless we have some faculty that makes us vulnerable to its temptation in the first place. There has to be something internal to mankind capable of and willing to do evil if we can even be tempted by it.
Now I understand that Christians reading this are likely questioning how I as a Christian can possibly sound like I am doubting the reality of evil forces external to humans – namely Satan and his demons. Let me say clearly that I am not casting doubt on the existence of such things. What I am saying is that they themselves are not primeval forces acting as the eternal source of evil. Christians will recall that there was a time when Satan and his demons were entirely good beings but somehow still turned evil, therefore the source of evil itself must be something else. Satan may very well have aided in causing the downfall of mankind and his ensuing proclivity to evil, but Satan is not the constant fountain of all things evil from which all evildoers draw.
So what then is evil and how does it reside in mankind? Evil is ability of rational creatures to exult their own desires over the purpose for which they exist. “Evil” is a moral term which denotes something bad. Something is bad if it is not good, and something is only good if it is tending towards a purpose for which it is made. For example, a good computer is one that functions perfectly and carries out all of the programs it was designed to operate. A bad computer is one that does not carry out the purposes which define it as a computer.
Evil is the ability of rational creatures to exult their own desires over the purpose for which they exist. Click To Tweet
Unlike computers, humans have rational agency. So while a bad computer is bad due to faulty design, damage inflicted on it, or misuse keeping it from properly executing the functions for which it was made, humans have the actual ability to make decisions for which they are morally responsible. So if humans were made to be charitable, courageous, kind, industrious, selfless, etc. (if that is our purpose), then it is bad to do anything other than those things. We could rightfully call anything not in line with those virtues evils.
Since humans have this rational agency which allows us to be morally accountable for choices, any evil we carry out is solely on our shoulders since we were the ones who acted upon the desire to do it. Things that make us bad could only be external to us if we are absolutely mindless and unaccountable for our actions just like an inanimate object such as a computer which can only go bad due to external forces (whether in its design or damage).
Assuming humans were created to glorify God through worship and virtuous lives (as is taken to be the case in Christian doctrine) then evil is any action contrary to that purpose. This was the essence of Satan’s fall when he himself desired to be like God and exalt himself over the creator he was designed to glorify. When Adam and Eve first sinned it was when they were told that they could be like God with full knowledge of good and evil which appealed to their ability to glorify, and in turn they made the decision to glorify themselves and their desires over God. This is the essence of all sin – having the ability as free agents to reflect upon the nature of and glorify God but choosing instead to reflect upon our own desires and effectively exalt ourselves as deities whose satisfaction is the sole end of our existence. Taking the purpose for which we were made, and disregarding it in exchange for another purpose of our own thereby taking us away from the good of our existence.
Notice the inverse of this definition of evil. If there is no purpose imposed upon humanity by a creator (say we exist as a product of the blind forces of nature), then purpose can be whatever humanity decides for itself. If the purpose of humanity is whatever humanity decides for itself then this will effectively become one and the same with what humanity desires. If a human’s purpose for themselves is whatever they desire, then they can never act upon a desire contrary to their purpose. Therefore, in a universe in which humans determine their own purpose there is no evil.
If we want to conclude, along with Dr. Jekyll, that evil is an entirely external force then we cannot own any responsibility for choosing it which forfeits all accountability for even the most atrocious evils we can possibly imagine. And if we are to conclude that there is no purpose imparted to mankind by a creative force greater than himself, we are left with the conclusion that there truly is no evil whether a man is in control of his actions or not since the good of our existence is whatever we make of it – no matter how atrocious that good may seem to those around us.
But those two conclusions are unacceptable to me, and I hope the reader find the conclusions unacceptable as well. Therefore, evil must exist as a result of mankind’s own decisions which violate the purpose imparted to him.
So on this first premise, that evil is external to mankind, The Mummy gets it horribly wrong. And this brings us to the second way in which The Mummy gets evil all wrong.
2: The Mummy Claims We Can Be Our Own Salvation From Evil
Jekyll’s entire project is defeating evil. Towards the end of the movie **spoilers** Tom Cruise’s character is told that by his sacrifice mankind will be saved. Later on, Cruise effectively does sacrifice himself which is presented in the movie as a kind of atonement for his past wrongs and a moment of redemption. After his self-sacrifice turns him into some sort of anti-hero demigod, Jekyll and the girl who was so uninteresting I already forgot her name discuss Cruise’s fate and consider the possibility that Cruise with his newfound power can save both himself and the rest of mankind from evil.
Obviously this is a premise that Christians will (hopefully) quickly reject. But The Mummy clearly communicated that evil, being something external and opposed to humanity, is something that humans can actively fight against. If there is an enemy, then we should be able to fight it, right?
Now here is the absurdity of such a claim. Since evil is a manifestation of our own wrong desires and actions which fall out of line with the good of our existence, then how can we possibly expect to save ourselves from evil if in order to do so we must save ourselves from ourselves?
...how can we possibly expect to save ourselves from evil if in order to do so we must save ourselves from ourselves? Click To Tweet
In order to demonstrate the practical impossibility of this, I challenge any human to go an entire day living entirely according to reason in accordance with virtue for the sake of virtue itself with absolutely no ulterior motive. Think you can make it a day? Go a week. Starting to see how impossible this is? You should. Evil is a part of our fallen human nature.
On a fundamental level, humans can only defeat evil by living in line with our purpose. If there is no purpose besides our own, then there is no evil to defeat. If there is a purpose, then that means we must find and live in accordance with that purpose. If that purpose is to glorify God, then God is an integral part of our own salvation thus we cannot save ourselves.
If Christians are right and our purpose is the worship of God and recognition of Him and His glorification as the sole end of our lives, then we ought to quickly realize that defeating evil is impossible for ourselves. Defeating evil is only made possible through the atoning propitiation of Jesus’ sacrifice which paid the debt we justly owe for our own wrongdoing since each and every one of us has taken the life given to us for the glory of God and used it to glorify ourselves as the gods of our own lives. Since exalting ourselves as our own gods with full power over our own lives is the very source of evil in the first place, trying to rid ourselves of evil through our own power is like trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline.
3: The Mummy Suggests That We Can Harness the Power of Evil
This is by far the stupidest idea presented in the movie. Tom Cruise’s character defeats the evil mummy lady by stabbing himself with Set’s dagger which fills him with the evil power of the Egyption God that corrupted the evil mummy lady in the first place. But somehow, the goodness within Cruise overcomes the power of Set, yet Cruise retains Set’s supernatural power (somehow minus the evil) that lets him match the abilities of the evil mummy lady.
Are humans still falling for this? Really? The promise of more power by allowing in evil is the oldest trick in the book. It’s literally older than playing “I got your nose,” and most kids even catch onto that one. Yet full grown rational adults can’t figure out that evil is evil and detrimental to our flourishing as human beings? Is that really so complicated?
In case it is, here is why that doesn’t work. Evil is anything contrary to the purpose for which we are created, right? So evil is literally just the ability to screw up our own existence.
Now if we are thinking that maybe we can just pull a fast one on a demon thingy and obtain its supernatural power, then we are just flat out stupid.
Keep giving Darwin the finger, humanity. Keep giving Darwin the finger.
Why All of This Matters
The Mummy was pretty bad. The ethical theory presented within it was even worse. But ultimately we are faced with the grave reality that humans are currently deluding themselves into thinking that we at our core really aren’t that bad. This is dangerous because when we look away from the true root of the problem, which is our own proclivity and desire to exalt ourselves over all else, we cannot truly resolve that problem. If we want society to get any better, we have to acknowledge the evil within ourselves. More importantly, if we want to uproot and defeat the evil within ourselves and avoid an eternity damned to Hell for our self-inflicted evils, then we must acknowledge our need for a savior. Failing to do so will leave humanity reeling in the same state of clueless depravity.
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