James Bond: Shake up your church's Bible Studies
Shaken, not stirred. A martini order honored by the American Film Institute as one of the best movie quotes in the past century of world cinema.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51: 10, 17
Congregations are searching for ways to welcome groups who usually shy away, especially men and young adults. In recent columns, I have shared ideas that use popular culture to reach people who are more likely to visit other institutions: our sports arenas, movie theaters and neighborhood pubs. Today, I'm sharing a small-group idea for the autumn-through-spring season that is-brace yourself-a Bible study shaken, not stirred!
That's right. I'm talking about a James Bond Bible study and, in this case, I can tell you that the cultural stars are aligning to make this an ideal season to start such a small group. Hollywood has declared that the Nov. 9 release of the blockbuster Skyfall marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies. In the UK, a new James Bond cable channel is launching. A new 007 cologne has popped up. The Skyfall DVD and Blu-ray for home viewing will hit in the spring. From 007's dramatic appearance in the opening of the London Olympics-jumping from a helicopter with the Queenof England-through the entire winter and spring, we will see 007 everywhere we look.
What's more, I'm confident about sharing this idea, because my James Bond Bible study book, called Ian Fleming's Seven Deadlier Sins & OO7's Moral Compass, already has been field tested around the world. I know that it works. Congregations who have used the study report attracting new men, young adults and first-time Bible-study participants in general. I've heard reports from congregations mainly in the U.S., but also as far away as New Zealand and Panama. My publisher and I donated a group of these books to U.S. military chaplains working with our troops overseas and, once again, the chaplains told us that this kind of study touches on core issues in the lives of their young adults, as well.
DISCOVERING THE JAMES BOND LINK WITH THE BIBLE
Years ago, I became interested in the James Bond novels when I discovered the term accidie, a word I had never known, in many of the tales. You will find that this ancient term spelled several ways, these days. Discussion of the evil originated in the earliest centuries of the Christian church and eventually it was identified as one of the classic seven deadly sins, translated as sloth or torpor in the Middle Ages.
I had assumed that the James Bond novels were simply spy stories. Why, I asked, would this ancient word be used repeatedly in these thrillers?
The answer slowly unfolded. In Casino Royale, the first James Bond, 007, adventure tale, author Ian Fleming revealed his intent to write "parables, proverbs and folklore about evil people." At the end of this novel James Bond defines his own mission. He would not be a spy, but "He would go after the threat behind the spies. The threat that made them spy."
Before beginning this series of novels, Fleming worked for the Times of London's foreign desk and wrote that the biggest threat in our modern world is the potential of evil in each of us. Yet, he argued that the traditional seven deadly sins or evils (Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Covetousness, Gluttony and Lust) would no longer keep us out of Heaven. He also said, "Of all the seven, only Sloth in its extreme form of accidie, which is a form of spiritual suicide and a refusal of joy, has my wholehearted condemnation, perhaps because in moments of despair I have seen its face."
Then, in addition to accidie, Ian Fleming listed seven deadlier evils (Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Cruelty, Malice, Avarice, Snobbery and Moral Cowardice) which he believed could surely send people to Hell! Fleming personified each of his seven deadlier sins in his evil characters-as well as in James Bond. Bond's mission was to slay these deadly threats, these Deadly Dragons. In my literary studies of Fleming's long career, I realized that I had broken a code in his final series of novels. James Bond, a.k.a. Saint George, is out to slay the seven deadlier Dragons of Evil that threaten our world.
I also believe that James Bond's name comes from Fleming's personal Bible, which opens the New Testament book of James with these words in English translation: "James, a bondservant." That's when I began an in-depth comparison of the New Testament text, coupled with the Fleming novels. I realized that Fleming's entire list of deadlier sins is mentioned directly or indirectly in the Letter of James.
THE DEEPER MEANING OF 'SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED'
"Shaken, not stirred," says Bond, James Bond, as he orders his famous martini. But, that phrase has surprisingly deeper meaning than its obvious reference to mixing a drink. Accidie occurs when your life is deeply shaken but you are no longer stirred to fight for the right and good in life. Accidie is the heart of the dragon without passion, spirit or vitality; it is consumed by sloth. Its blood is cool, fostering indifference, carelessness, boredom and cynicism about life and God. Fleming's most evil characters, Dr. No, Blofeld and Mr. Big, all confess accidie in the novels. When we are in the grip of accidie and have lost energy and passion for life, we are more prone to moral cowardice, the soul of the evil dragon. Moral cowardice chooses personal gain, pleasure or power above the well being of the whole.
Our faith says that Life ultimately is stronger than Death. That's what Fleming, the flawed saint, preached again and again. That's why Fleming's James Bond, a.k.a. St. George, found his way beyond the crossroads of accidie in novel after novel. This is our Good News, too. The dragon of accidie can overwhelm us so completely that we descend into utter indifference, carelessness, inertia and apathy towards God's creation. But Fleming's message, like the Gospel's message is: These evils can be conquered. We can reclaim joy.
That is truly good news both in Bond and in the Bible.
Dr. Benjamin Pratt
Care for more details on how I sketch out these connections, novel by novel and temptation by temptation? I just completed a five-part series as a guest writer at OurValues, a secular column about contemporary values produced by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker.
Care to learn more about parallels with the Letter of James? Visit my book's website for details.