I enjoy studying about philosophy and about super heroes, and so I bought an appropriate book. It’s Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, part of Blackwell’s “Philosophy and Pop Culture Series.”1 It explains how one can understand various aspects of Batman’s life and actions in light of philosophical theories.
One of the articles in the book is Stephen Kershnar’s “Batman’s Virtuous Hatred,”2. Kershnar uses Batman to argue that hatred of people can be a virtue. Why should we care about this issue even if we don’t like Batman? It’s because of this: If Batman shows that we can hate other people in a virtuous way, then the Bible is wrong, because the Bible teaches that virtuous people do not hate other people (Matthew 5:44). First, I will explain Kershnar’s argument, and then I will respond from the biblical perspective of virtue. The point here is not to trivialize the Bible by using it to illustrate a comic book, but rather to defend the Bible against an objection that grows from a discussion about a comic book.
It is well known that Batman fights crime, but it is going further to say that Batman hates criminals. And even further to say that it is good for Batman to hate criminals. Here is how Kershnar gets there. He first argues for an account of virtue called “Virtuous-Thoughts-and-Actions,” whereby a person is counted virtuous to the degree that he has virtuous thoughts and actions. In other words, thoughts and actions are primarily virtuous—persons become virtuous because they have the right thoughts and actions. This seems right and consistent with what the Bible says in terms of God’s evaluation of human thought and action.3
However, after arguing that a person is virtuous to the degree that he has virtuous thoughts and takes virtuous actions, Kershnar goes on to argue that Batman exemplifies virtuous hatred of criminals.4 Here is how the argument works:
1. Wanting unjust people to suffer, i.e., get their “just desserts,” is the same as hating them.
2. It is virtuous to want unjust people to get their just desserts.
3. Batman’s hatred of criminals is virtuous.
The first premise is either clearly wrong or misleading. It is virtuous to want vicious people to get their just desserts, but this entails neither (1) that a virtuous person takes pleasure in suffering per se (otherwise he would not insist that those who wrongfully cause suffering pay the price), nor (2) that a virtuous person hates his enemies.
In fact, the Bible teaches that the virtuous person loves his enemies and is in favor of justice in society on Earth.5 On the biblical view, virtuous people do not hate any other people, but virtuous people do hate sin (Isaiah 59:2; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Revelation 2:6).
Christ frees us from hating people while urging us to love their souls. After all, we can recall when we were still enemies of God, and He loved us enough to provide a costly remedy for the sin which He so hated (Romans 5:6-11).
Ed. Mark D. White and Robert Arp (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008). ↩
ibid., 28-37. ↩
“Batman’s Virtuous Hatred,” 33ff. ↩
Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27; Romans 13:1-7; see Dave Miller, “Capital Punishment and the Bible,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=683&topic=29 (2002); cf. Igor Primoratz, “Justifying Legal Punishment,” The Ethical Life, 2nd ed., ed. Russ Shafer-Landau (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). ↩