Friday, May 16, 2008

The Opposite of Fear

One of the most ballyhooed films of last summer was 300.  I was so excited to see it that I broke my "no first run movies" rule and saw a matinee within weeks of it's opening.  I was disappointed, and my disappointment was all Steven Pressfield's fault.
Prior to seeing 300, my friend Dan lent me Gates of Fire, by Pressfield.  It is a historical novel depicting the Battle of Thermopylae.  I read Gates of Fire before seeing 300.  This was a mistake as I would have enjoyed the movie more had I seen it before reading the book.  Pressfield took the opposite approach of Miller (Author of the Graphic Novel 300, on which the film was based), in that he told a very believable story, one that the reader could easily conceive, yet still view as legend.  Pressfield's characters are so lifelike, yet so heroic that I would be disappointed were I to travel back in time and meet King Leonidas, and find him unlike Pressfield's representation.  Gates of Fire took characters with some historical basis and wove a complex story about them.  For instance Dienekas, a central character in the book was a real person who, when confronted with the possibility of the mass of Persian arrows blocking the sun is actually believed to have responded "Then we will have our battle in the shade."
The book is narrated by a Spartan slave, and it is as much the story of his life as it is The Battle of Thermopylae.  The book examines and portrays Spartan culture, which has been called a "cult of courage."  It is this element of the book that led to my disappointment with the movie.  What follows is a spoiler so stop reading now if you plan to read the book.  Prior to the 300 Spartans departing Sparta to meet Xerxes at Thermopylae Dienekas ponders what compels the Spartans to so willingly march to certain death.  He speaks of facing one's fears, and decides, after much pondering that the opposite of fear is love.  Love is why the 300 Spartans marched off to die.  Not love of glory, or blood, although they certainly reveled in both, but simply love for their families, and for their way of life.  
I wish that the church was a little more like Sparta.  For Christ implored us to be just that. Men, gladly going off to die for their wives.  Wives and mothers bravely facing this reality, and trusting that all will work to the glory of Sparta.  
I am grateful to Steven Pressfield for writing Gates of Fire, there is so much Christians can learn from the Spartans, from the warrior's code and Pressfield has showed us what the perfect warrior looked like.  Hope that was subtle enough.  Discuss, I'm vaclempt!

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