The Movie Every Church Should Show Its Young Adults: Spoiler Isn’t Marvel or “The Jesus Film”
In America today, we see the very foundations of morality and law crumble under our feet. For this reason, we must find ways to generate serious discussion about the nature and application of both. As populist and revolutionary forces who view the law as pure political power, further overturning the synthesis of Judeo-Christian morality and classical liberal contractarianism as the basis of law, we dare not find ourselves in an unresponsive sleep. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly critical for Christians to re-examine both the ethical commandments found in the revealed law of the Scriptures, as well as the moral law written in nature, i.e. in natural law. .
The most important film ever made
Regarding the latter, the natural law, I can think of no more important film to show a religious group, especially a young adult ministry, than the 1961 film “The Judgment at Nuremberg”. Shot within 20 years of the actual Nuremberg Trials, the film’s production was both controversial and courageous. It was published the same year that Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi concentration camps, was tried and sentenced in Israel (Eichmann was later hanged in 1962) and well in the living memory of many veterans of the Second World War, including many Germans and Austrians. who had fought in the war. Directed by Stanley Kramer, it has since been given special status by the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress, being considered a work of “cultural, historical and aesthetic” significance.
Young adults or teaching pastors who enjoy showing films to spark important theological and Bible conversations, to generate “conversations that matter” should don’t neglect this movie. There will always be time to give our minds a dose of dopamine with the latest Marvel or Matrix eye candy overdose. These cultural symbols will not disappear anytime soon, their mind-numbing qualities indeed being a step on the road to the new dystopia.
Instead, we should look to more sober things, things that may not be around for very long but that could help us preserve a culture that is still worth fighting for. Contemplating the nature of the Nazi atrocities and the crumbling of the authority of the revealed Word of God and natural law that led to the Nuremberg Laws is a good way to begin to revive the present generation. It is for this reason that I think “The Judgment of Nuremberg” is the most important film ever made. That’s not just because of its enduring aesthetic quality (due, in part, to incredible cast), but because of the lingering metaphysical and moral questions it poses to its audience. No one can get out of this movie without reconsidering or reaffirming something pretty deep about the human condition. Or at least no one should.
8 questions for further reflection
Because I really hope that leaders in the young adult ministry or high school will show this film, I am offering a series of study questions that can be distributed before viewing. Reading great literature or watching great movies can be a real catalyst not only for thinking but also for corresponding action. We are at a crossroads in our nation’s history and we must prepare the next generation for battle, even as we realize that this battle is often not in our power to win.
Only a fool would think that something that looks a lot like Nazi Germany could not reappear in the course of human affairs. In fact, many today believe that the conditions are right for the next totalitarian state to emerge. Personally, given the biblical arc, I see it as an inescapable fatality. However, regardless of what really happens, we must heed the timeless warning of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a warning born of experience: “Let a lie come into the world, let it even triumph.” But not by me!
However, if we are not able to recognize the lie, then how will we even know whether it is crossing us or not? It is in this sense that I say that we must prepare the next generation for combat. It is not a physical fight, it is spiritual. Watching the film and considering these questions should help identify and avoid this lie.
Here are seven questions to consider as your group watches the film:
- Pay attention to the arguments of the German defense lawyer (Maximillian Schell). What are his arguments? What is his main point on what is legally right or wrong? Are his arguments valid arguments? Do you see people making arguments like this in our culture today because it applies to their own behavior? If so, where and how?
- Pay attention to the prosecution’s (Richard Widmark) arguments against the Nazi judges? What is he basing his case on? What sources of moral authority does he invoke or refer to? What source of moral authority is visibly absent from his case?
- Think about the scene where Judge Haywood (Spencer Tracy) interrogates the servants in the house he lives in? To what extent were these “ordinary” Germans responsible for what happened? How innocent or not guilty were they? What would you have done Be sober in your assessment.
- Why does Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) stop the trial / questioning of the witness? What ultimately condemns him?
- Consider Judge Haywood’s interview with Janning at the end of the film. What does he say about how Janning should have known what he was doing was wrong?
- Has God placed in nature itself, that is to say in the physical cosmos, an “ethos?” Does nature reflect morality in any way? In other words, is there something in the structure of nature that tells us how lives are to be ordered or structured?
- If there is something in the structure of the physical world, of nature, that tells us about the nature of morality, then how do we know it? How do we discern this structure and how do we discern when and how it corresponds to morality?
- Finally, from a specifically Christian point of view, given Biblical Revelation, what is the problem with discerning moral values and duties from nature alone? Why will it always lead us astray if it is not supplemented by the scriptures?
Photo: “Copyright © 1961 by United Artists Corporation.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons