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James Bond and the challenge to civilized order

Eric Patterson | The movie reminds of real-life threats


Daniel Craig attends the world premiere of "No Time To Die" in London. Associated Press/Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision

James Bond and the challenge to civilized order
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James Bond is back on screens worldwide with a new film, No Time to Die. Beyond the gadgets and fast cars, a central theme of the movie is how governments should respond to lawlessness. James Bond—Agent 007—reminds us that it is sometimes necessary to employ force to resist aggression. Recent Bond films have particularly underscored a critical issue facing political leaders today: Legitimate government authorities have an ethical obligation to address threats that go beyond conflicts with other nation states.

Since actor Daniel Craig took over as 007 in 2006, the fundamental conflict driving the plot lines is consistently between democracies and powerful non-state actors. Bond’s nemeses (e.g., Le Chiffre, Mr. White, Blofeld) represent vast criminal enterprises, sometimes in league with nefarious foreign governments. As the head of British spy agency MI6, M (then played by Judi Dench) tells a Parliamentary inquiry in the movie Skyfall, these killers operate “in the shadows.”

The Bond film Spectre reveals a global network of criminal organizations cooperating, like the many legs of an octopus, at the behest of a single criminal mastermind. In Skyfall, corrupted MI6 agent Raoul Silva contemptuously interrogates Bond: Why settle as a poorly paid government hack constantly under the thumb of small-minded public officials? Silva’s message: exercise power and get rich by manipulating stocks to destabilize multinational corporations, disrupting spy satellite communication, and rigging elections. Dominic Green, the villain in Quantum of Solace exemplifies this when bullying a Latin American dictator: “You should know something about me and the people I work with. We deal with the Left or the Right, with dictators or liberators. If the current president had been more agreeable, I wouldn’t be talking to you.”

In No Time to Die, on screens now, the archvillain Safin asserts authority over life and death: “Here I am, their invisible god.” From the shadows, he plans to unleash a global bioweapon.

These sinister operatives all challenge the legitimacy of lawful government. But legitimacy is the currency of political authority.

Government is an institution ordained by God. The God-ordained calling to public service is exemplified in the Old Testament, from teaching in Proverbs about wise leadership to the statesmanship of Joseph, Moses, David, Nehemiah, Daniel, and others. The New Testament provides examples of public servants and specific teaching that government authorities have a responsibility to provide order and justice, including through the threat and use of force.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)

Christians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley worked out a framework for responsible action in a conflicted, sinful world. Christian just war reasoning argues that political authorities may utilize force when acting on a just cause with right intent. This distinguishes force from violence. Force is lawful, restrained, and under authority. Violence is vengeful, unrestrained, and beyond the law.

This is not to say that 007 is an angel or that any earthly government is perfectly moral. Anyone familiar with the series knows that James Bond is a complex character. Nevertheless, 007, espionage expert “M,” the spy agency MI6, and the United Kingdom represent earthly authorities “bearing the sword” against evil. Bond’s famous “license to kill” is authorized and restrained by the British government. In fact, M wisely remarks, “The license to kill is also the license not to kill.” When Bond’s supervisors believe him to be acting outside his mandate, they relieve him of his duties.

In the 21st century, we face a plague of violent, unlawful agitators and threats: cyberwarfare, eco-terrorism, biological and chemical attacks, unconstrained multi-national corporations, drug cartels, mercenaries, Islamist terrorists, and powerful transnational criminal syndicates with more wealth and power than many governments. Many of these are in league with nefarious government actors in Russia, China, Iran, and elsewhere.

These are not merely fictional threats. Let’s remember that it is the role of government to prevent and punish such lawlessness, whether on-screen or off. The threats to civilization are real, and you don’t have to be a Bond fan to know it.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is executive vice president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of 15 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.

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Lkwright

I appreciate this take on the film and look forward to seeing it. How I long for the days when our enemy was more clear. Perhaps it is off point, but the article seems to disregard—or at least not include—how our own government has in many ways become the enemy to its own people. What then? As John MacArthur said in his very helpful sermon “When Government Rewards Evil and Punishes Good,” a government forfeits its authority when it calls evil good and good evil. The verses about submission are thus misused in our current environment. Paul himself was in civil disobedience when he wrote these words… so that seems to expose misguided interpretations? Our submission is no longer required. We can only hope and pray that individuals will find salvation in Jesus and then that our government will return to moral roots; meanwhile we must stand up as we can against immoral, authoritarian, and tyrannical control.

Mamma PeachLkwright

True. In those cases though it is following a higher authority. Lawlessness ignores authority altogether, or when following authority is not what it wants or desires. God's way involves a variety of authorities in charge of various parts of life, beginning with parents and extending to national governments with God over all. All human authorities are prone to sin and may give sinful or seriously misguided orders, yet we are not supposed to be rebellious because that rebellious attitude will lead to rebellion against God. Instead we are to appeal to following a greater authority when told to do something wrong and hold those authorities accountable to that authority which is higher than they are.