As I watched the dystopian story Divergent with two teen girls (my younger daughter and her friend who call themselves fangirls) I was struck by the claim of the female leader of the intellectuals that the problem is “human nature.” In a world where higher education increasingly devalues the Humanities in favor of hard science and technology (I speak as a Humanities teacher) this makes sense, and may be believed by more people than we think. In his book The Face of God, Roger Scruton puts his finger on the problem: “Take away religion, however; take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down’, which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind, and with it our kindness.” (pg. 72)
The biblical story of humans created in the image of God is the high water mark for idealism about human nature. But it is curious to me that another film I recently watched, Noah, puts the ideal of the image of God on the lips of the villain rather than Noah, who comes across for part of the story as more of an anti-human environmentalist than a man of God who owns the sixth day of the creation narrative. Of course the villain misuses the concept to serve himself. Nevertheless, Noah, or someone in his onboard ark family, could have said something to redeem the image ideal while he was ranting about killing the newborn girls. But it was not to be in this Hollywood version of the story. Are these two films telling us something about the popular mood toward formerly sacred beliefs? Of course they are. That is what art and entertainment does best.