Learning Civics Through the Movies Print
Monday, 26 March 2007 09:06

Written by Keith Strohm

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually wasn't the last blogger to post about the movie 300. The fine folks over at Thursday Night Gumbo saw the movie last week and have posted their thoughts. I was particularly taken with Jeff Woodward's reflection upon his viewing.


Rather than just talk about the visuals, Woodward highlighted the movie's demonstration of the civic virtues in the life of the fictionalized spartans. Here's some of what Jeff had to say:

The qualities celebrated in 300 are what we once called the “civic virtues.” Love of country. Love of family. Love of civilization – although relatively few human beings in the history of the world have found themselves caught up, as Leonidas was, in a true contest of civilizations. We don't really think in those terms any more. All the virtues publicly celebrated in our own time are virtues linked to individual freedom – the virtues of personal expression, the supreme virtue of being ourselves. If we are exhorted to any “civic virtues” nowadays, they are virtues that would have seemed quite alien, and quite trivial, to the 300 Spartans: avoiding “offensive speech”; minimizing our “carbon footprint” (or paying someone to do it for us); voting higher taxes so that the government can “take care of” all those inconvenient people that we would rather not have to worry about as individual human beings.

I walked out of the theater last night feeling rather ashamed.

I think he has a point.

If Christianity is to be more than merely a place for those who want to exercise a private religious option, if it is to be what Fr. Neuhaus calls, "a very public proclamation of the nature of the world and our place in it," then we must do more to engage with the culture we find ourselves in. Christianity is, among many things, concerned with the good of society and of the individuals within that society--both temporally and eternally. Being salt and leaven means, in the words of John Paul II's Christifideles Laici, "ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity."

Thus, authentic Christian formation must provide support for responsible citizenship and the advancement of civic virtues--not in a way that entangles patriotism and religion in wrong relationship, but rather in a way that promotes the just (rightly-ordered) participation of men and women of faith in government and civic activity. Such civic activity should by no means exclusively proceed utilizing theological principles (though it should remain in harmony with the gospel). Rather, men and women of faith are called on to propose gospel-based solutions to particular issues utilizing a common language and common reason to engage in authentic dialogue with their fellow citizens.

In that way, we can fulfill the Great Commission and evangelize the culture and institutions of our time with the light of the gospel in a way that respects the dignity and the freedom of others. If we truly believe that Christ has shown us "a more excellent way," then we should not be afraid to advance that Way in a manner that is intelligible to non-Christians (1Cor 12:31).

It seems that Frank Miller's Spartans have much to teach us.