The Worldview of American Sniper

I got around to watching American Sniper yesterday. What struck me most were some words of the main character’s father, Wayne Kyle, speaking to his son Chris after a fight where he was protecting his younger brother in elementary school. Chris would grow up to be the most lethal sniper in US history, and the movie is about his four tours in Iraq. Putting aside the complexities of why any specific person joins the military, the worldview that Wayne Kyle presents his children undergirds the whole movie, it helps us to sympathize with Chris’ efforts, and the film does a good job at that. What I want to highlight is how un-Christianun-Christlike, and unbiblical that worldview really is. While this does address what I would say about Chris’ life and “purpose”, I would have loved to meet Chris, to talk about his experiences, maybe even talk about this worldview and how it goes against things said in the Bible which he carried around with him all four tours. Here are Wayne Kyle’s words:

There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.

The first sentence doesn’t communicate anything off-kilter. It reminds me a bit about this passage from Acts 20:28-29

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseersto shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock

The next two sentences start to lead us away from a biblical worldview. Wayne states in the film that sheep”prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world”. But, who does Jesus say are the sheep?

I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolvesso be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” -Matthew 10:16

Another relevant passage referring to all Christians as sheep would be Romans 8:35-36

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or dangeror sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

So, really, anyone who is a disciple of Christ is a sheep, and a disciple of Christ has no illusions about evil not existing. The wolves are certainly real. The last portion of Wayne Kyle’s statement is about the “sheepdog”, and how it is blessed with “the gift of aggression”. In the film, it is bluntly obvious that this is not just an attitude but specifically violent aggression that is the key characteristic of the sheepdog. Here again though, we should ask ourselves, how does scripture say Christians are to respond to evil?

Do not avenge yourselvesdear friendsbut give place to God’s wrathfor it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Ratherif your enemy is hungry, feed himif he is thirstygive him a drinkfor in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – Romans 12:19-21

For this finds God’s favorif because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endurethis finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was malignedhe did not answer backwhen he sufferedhe threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:19-23

Christians are called to “follow in his steps”, meaning Jesus’ steps, who did not have the “gift of aggression”, and yet, is the ultimate conqueror over all evil and death. The last thing I will add to this is that in the New Testament there are very strong words about people who harm others within the community of Christians, especially when talking about psychological and social harm. In the first few centuries of Christianity, to be part of “the Church” meant that you most likely shared meals several times a week, shared some possessions, and formed intimate economic and social ties with those people. Thus, instructions such as these were given to leaders if they encountered someone who was wreaking havoc in the community:

Reject divisive person after one or two warnings. You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself – Titus 3:10-11

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoralor greedyor an idolateror verbally abusive, or a drunkardor a swindlerDo not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outsideRemove the evil person from among you. – 1 Co. 5:11-13

While these instructions may not apply equally to a modern church in the US because of the more isolated and autonomous existence of its’ members, it just goes to show that the sheep are not ignorant of evil. The “removing” is not “exterminating”. All in all, the sheep have a better idea at how to stop evil once and for all! We follow the example of Jesus.