Wonder Woman, Guns, and The Problem of Evil
By Edwardo Pérez
In 2017’s Wonder Woman, we get Princess Diana’s origin story – part Batman (people she loves are killed and she wants payback), part Superman (she’s a gift to humanity sent to protect us), and part, well, Wonder Woman. She’s not only able to pick up a tank and hurl lightning bolts at the Greek God Ares (or see and move in Matrix-style bullet time), she pretty much looks runway ready throughout the entire film, wielding her feminist care ethic as if it were the ultimate weapon (here’s a hint: it is), upstaging every man (which is easy for actress Gal Gadot to do). Diana is also equal parts Prometheus and Pandora – she wants to help man and she’s a gift for man.
Linking all of this together is the problem of evil – because it’s what superheroes are supposed to fight against. Yet, in Wonder Woman, the evil problem isn’t just a supervillain (or God of War), it’s also man himself (as a species, but perhaps, in a parallel feminist critique, just males) and at the heart of the film’s narrative is the question of whether man (because he is evil) is worth saving.
Of course, the traditional philosophical problem of evil is rooted in understanding why evil exists in the first place. As the general questioning goes: Does God (who is supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient) allow evil to exist? If so, why? If not, why does evil exist? Is God unwilling or unable to do anything about it?
There have been many other questions and solutions and explanations proposed in the fields of religion and philosophy (along various argumentative trajectories, especially those that try to prove or disprove the existence of God) but nothing ever really seems satisfying. If we’re honest, the only conclusion we can draw with any certainty is that evil exists (it’s just too abundant a thing to ignore or dismiss).
This is what makes Wonder Woman so interesting, beyond Gal Gadot and the copious special effects, which seem to be lifted (along with Wonder Woman’s guitar riff) right out of the 2006 Zach Snyder film 300. One expects popcorn thrills, but a lesson on the sins of humanity?
As Ares claims, Mankind stole the world from the Gods and “ruined it, day by day.” Yes, Ares admits whispering dark thoughts into man’s ear, but as he sees it, man has a choice about what to do with those dark thoughts – if he were truly good, man wouldn’t listen to Ares, but since he’s bad, man chooses to abide his evil nature. As Ares argues to Diana, “They’ve always been and always will be weak, cruel, selfish, and capable of the greatest horrors.” Is Ares right? Are we ultimately responsible for the evils of the world?
It seems fair to say that one reason we’re so interested in the problem of evil is because we humans don’t like being responsible – for anything. We love to blame, point the finger, and say it’s not our fault (it’s the mantra of Good Will Hunting psychotherapy). And, if we can convincingly say it’s not our fault, then (because we love binary thinking, especially in terms of good vs. evil) it must be some other evil man, the devil, or malicious deity. Psychologically, being off the hook is just more comfortable.
But what if it is us? What if Ares is right? After all, we do seem to enjoy violence, don’t we? As South Park pointed out twenty years ago, we’ll censor naughty language and nudity from our children, but not violence. Look at any Disney movie (from any decade) and you’ll see horrific violence committed against children and parents and really cute animals. And, the PG-13 ratings Superhero movies receive nowadays don’t just push the envelope, illustrating that we love to watch killing, they blur the line between fiction and reality to the point that we become desensitized to the real thing.
One of the terrible side effects of mass shootings on the scale of Newtown, Orlando, or Las Vegas is that we get a plethora of newly updated statistics to contemplate, like the recent New York Times Editorial Board’s cataloguing of the 521 mass shootings that occurred during the 477 days between Orlando (June 12, 2016) and Las Vegas (October 1, 2017). As the editorial illustrates, we’ve had sixteen straight months between Orlando and Las Vegas with at least twenty-two mass shootings per month. We’ve had 343 mass shootings so far in 2017 (as of Oct. 5th). Las Vegas was the first one committed in October, but we’ve had six more slip under our radars. If we do the math, that means we can expect at least fifteen more before Halloween.
No doubt we’ve all got an array of figures on the tip of our tongues (for whichever side of the gun debate we’re on) ready to hurl at anyone who dares to bring up the topic. And yet, the horrifying common ground in this debate is this: we all want to be safe. Translation: we all want the right to kill each other.
Think about it – if you’re pro-gun, your argument is rooted in the belief that the second amendment gives you the right not just to carry a gun but to use it against anyone who threatens you (it’s certainly the logic of “stand your ground” laws and it’s the logic used to argue against any and all gun legislation). Or, if you’re a hunter you want the right to kill animals (for sport or food). If you’re anti-gun, you still want to protect yourself and your loved ones, don’t you? You still need laws that let you kill in certain circumstances, don’t you? Otherwise, you’re a sitting duck (like everyone in Sandy Hook elementary, everyone in the Orlando nightclub, and everyone in Vegas). Or worse, you’re responsible.
Extend this out a bit further (for the sake of example) and you find an interesting dichotomy: anti-abortionists who are pro-gun (and either for or against the death penalty); and, pro-abortionists who are anti-gun (and either for or against the death penalty). 🤔
Maybe we just need to ask ourselves why we want to kill each other. Why do we cherish the ability to take life, rather than preserve it? Why do we consider killing (especially with a gun) a right sanctioned by God’s law, natural law, or man-made law? Is it just about self-defense or is it about the god-like power that comes with pulling a trigger and sending a soul to heaven, hell, or oblivion?
We can cite the second amendment, but the sixth commandment of Moses in Jewish and Protestant faiths (and the fifth commandment in Catholicism) says “thou shalt not kill.” Buddhism is founded on the idea that we should abstain from taking any life (from insects to animals to humans) and Hinduism teaches non-violence. The second amendment may be about guns, but a gun has only one purpose: to end life. And yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people – that’s Ares’s argument and it’s confirmed by the 90 people who die every day in America (9 of them children) because of guns (we own 300 million of them). Similarly, the United States (regardless of which administration is in power) has a habit of voting against any United Nations resolution that prohibits the death penalty in any form, because, as a country, we reserve the right to sentence people to death (in the most humane way possible).
Here’s one more illustration of evil: between 2005 and 2015, seventy-one Americans were killed as a result of terrorist attacks. During the same decade, guns took the lives of 301,797 American citizens. The organizing principal of our post-9/11 society is predicated on vigilance against terrorist attacks. Thus, we spend about $600 billion fighting terrorism – every year. How much do we spend fighting guns?
Despite all of this, Wonder Woman’s Diana doesn’t see what Ares sees. As Diana tells Ares (ironically, before she kills him), “You are wrong about them. They are everything you say, but so much more.” And, as she says at the end of the film: “I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight and I give – for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.”
It’s admirable, inspiring, and because Gal Gadot is saying it, it’s intoxicatingly compelling. But, reading between the lines, it’s also an affirmation of Ares’s position, which can be distilled into one final lesson: we’re equal parts good and evil, thus we have to choose – to love or to hate. This isn’t a choice in the classic free will defense of the problem of evil (which suggests that evil is part of a free will package deal) but in the sense that if we want to solve evil, it’s up to us to choose its opposite.
It’s easy to blame congress and even easier to blame the NRA (or God or the devil or yet another mentally ill lone gunman) for the existence and perpetuation of evil. But until there’s no longer a market for guns, a market for war, or a market for violence, evil will continue to exist and we’ll continue to pass it on from one generation to the next – we’ll continue to prove Ares right ninety times every day.
In the final analysis, the problem of evil isn’t about who created it, the problem is why we propagate it on one hand, while on the other hand we wait for someone else to solve it. We don’t need congress, we don’t need superheroes, and we don’t need God (or any other deity) intervening in our existence as if we were all characters in The Iliad. We need to realize that, for all our abilities, all our advancements, and all our technologies, perhaps we’re just not ready to play with the fire that Prometheus gave us.
As Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor tells Diana, before he heroically sacrifices himself to save the day (before Diana saves the world), “You don’t think I wish I could tell you that it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not. We’re all to blame.” Diana replies “I’m not,” to which Steve says, “But maybe I am.” Perhaps he’s right and perhaps so is Ares. Where Ares is wrong is that we don’t deserve to be destroyed for being evil, we’re already destroying ourselves. What we need is a “toy timeout” so we can reassess our behavior. As Diana says in response to Ares, “It’s not about deserving, it’s about believing. And I believe in love.” If only we all did.
Edwardo Pérez, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Tarrant County College Northeast.
The Editorial Board. “477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress.” Nytimes.com. 2 Oct. 2017.
Qui, Linda. “Fact-checking a comparison of gun deaths and terrorism deaths.” Politifact.com. 5 Oct. 2015.
“U.S. Mass Shootings, 2017.” Massshootingtracker.org.
Wonder Woman. Dir. Patty Jenkings. Perf. Gal Gadot, Chris Pine. Warner Brothers, DVD. 2017.