R.I.P.D.: Evil Must be Punished or There is No Justice

Men in Black with evil souls instead of aliens. Or Ghostbusters 2013. Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, a cop who finds himself killed in the line of duty and winds up on R.I.P.D. the Rest in Peace Department of “heaven” or whatever it is. They need his skills to help catch renegade evil souls called, Deados, who have escaped the big sucking wind tunnel to the afterworld, in order to hide out on earth in disguise among the living. What Nick, and his veteran partner, Roy, played by Jeff Bridges as a rascally western style sheriff, soon discover is that the evil souls have their own planned apocalypse, and can I say, it ain’t bringing heaven to earth.

Nick discovers he has about a hundred years to help the RIPD, or “take his chances with judgment,” of which he is not too sure he will do well. So he jumps at the chance. The partners have to hunt down the dark souls, whose presence is revealed by their decaying effect on their living quarters. Electricity flutters, and homes fall apart or are covered with grossness and slime. Their own spiritual decay is manifested in them looking ugly and monstrous, but they are able to disguise themselves as normal humans. Their true natures come out when offered Asian or Indian spicy food (I don’t get that one, but you gotta have some rules for the world you create).

Unfortunately, Nick, himself is not a clean soul, as he was involved in taking a little from the coffers of captured criminal gold when he was alive. But he does it only to be able to bless his wonderful loving wife, who means the world to him. Living on a cop’s salary is a temptation to skim.

So, if they can capture the souls and bring them back into a purgatory like holding cell in the sky, then they will eventually be brought to judgment.

Nick’s journey is one of being able to let go of his wife, and redeeming himself since he was taken at too young an age and would be unable to clear his name to her because he wants to right his wrong. But as his partner reminds him, no one dies at a good time, it’s always an inconvenience for our plans.

The bad guys’ plan is based in something called the “Staff of Jericho,” which has ancient roots in the Old Testament times, but it is not really explained so it becomes a mere plot device similar to Ghostbusters. But the point is that it is an ancient pagan religious device that does evil through the spiritual world. In this sense, the picture painted by this movie is a kind of Christian worldview against paganism.

But it’s really more of a Christian worldview subverted by cosmic humanism.

This movie was a mixture of good laughs, warm romance, humanist redemption and SFX. I love the premise. It’s very clever. Because it is an unavoidably spiritual premise, there is unyielding talk of hell and eternal punishment for “bad people.” This is one of those narrative and ethical “proofs for the existence of God.” You cannot tell satisfying stories and you cannot have a moral or ethical universe that does not include real punishment and reward. C.S. Lewis argued that the notion of punishment, far from being the “unfair behavior of a cruel god,” who “casts people into hell,” the notion of punishment is what actually gives meaning and dignity to the human on both a societal level and by extension a spiritual one. If you do not punish a being, then you are denying them the essential dignity to choose good or evil. You are saying that they cannot but do what they do, whether through psychological or internal chemical manipulation or whatever. To punish is not to be cruel at all (if done justly of course), but to affirm that the being could have done otherwise and had the inherent dignity and capability to do so. To freely choose to do good or evil is the thing that dignifies humanity. If we are but victims of our social groups or scientific natural causes, then we are mere puppets to be socially engineered by the elites. And guess who those elites would be? You got it. The privileged ones who believe in those views: The scientific materialists, naturalists, socialists and other totalitarian utopian left wing radicals (to whom the only “evil” is a God who judges – and his followers).

But if there is a God who punishes or judges, then that means he made us with the inherent dignity and power to do right. Our choice not to do right does not make us diseased or sick, but evil. A God who does not punish or judge evil is the most cruel and unjust being possible because billions of innocent victims are denied justice and recompense in favor of the criminal evildoers getting away with it.

Thus the saying, “Compassion to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.” In justice, if you do not punish evildoers, you are punishing the victims (which includes the family and loved ones of those victims). No, worse, you are torturing them by allowing the evildoer to escape justice which intensifies and magnifies the loss of the loved ones for the rest of their lives. It’s like torturing the victims.

Ah, if there was only a way in which our spiritual crimes could be paid for AND we are forgiven, only then can justice and peace embrace. Now, who could be that perfect mediator to fulfill both justice and grace? Who can save us from this body of death? Thanks be to…

Do I digress?

And that is where this movie falls apart. Since the only taboo in some studio movies is GOD, the filmmakers ditch the only logical and reasonable reality of a personal God who judges and replace him with a “universe that judges in its ultimate wisdom.” The universe in this movie is a godless one. It is a pantheistic view that makes the entire universe as if it is the supreme being. Which is ultimately unsatisfying from a story perspective, because now you have a personal story of personal beings who are interacting not with an ultimate person, but with an impersonal abstract force or accumulation of natural laws. BORING. They could have easily used the generic term “God” which would still mean whatever most people wanted it to mean anyway, but it would have been a more satisfying story with a personal connection. Depersonalizing the deity is suicide for storytelling and theology. Impersonal forces do not “judge,” only personal beings do, because “judgment” is an ethical notion between personal beings.

Another half and half movie. Half good stuff about judgment for our deeds on earth, half terrible stuff about a godless pantheistic universe.

And another thing in this movie: What happens when a bad soul doesn’t want to go back in supernatural handcuffs to the “holding cell” to await his judgment? Well, then the RIPD has guns with special bullets that annihilate the soul, destroy them forever. Do not go to Hell, do not collect one hundred dollars, just straight into oblivion of non-existence.

So I got to thinking. The souls who have escaped are all obviously evil, as evidenced by their manifestation. So, if they are going to go to judgment anyway, what would you rather want (as an evil soul), eternal torment or non-existence? And it seemed to me that I would rather cease to exist than suffer forever under punishment. So from the perspective of a spiritual criminal, getting blown away by the RIPD might actually be preferable to judgment.

But from “the universe in its ultimate wisdom” perspective (Ahem, God’s perspective), it seems to me that annihilation would be the ultimate devaluation of human worth because the lack of existence makes the human worth nothing, while continuity of existence, even in judgment, maintains that the human is in the image of God and therefore has eternal value. Kind of an extension of what I was saying about punishment above.

OR would the devaluation of the human into nothing be the ultimate judgment? I can see why some might see it that way. But then again, would God devalue his own image in a human being? I kinda doubt it.

But whatever the case, we do have the promise from God that “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6–8).

And if you want to see if anyone can actually attain this “righteousness,” go here.