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Cultural Commentary

Why I disagree with George Clooney



My wife and I recently saw The Monuments Men, George Clooney's adaptation of The New York Times bestseller by the same title.  How much is fiction and how much is history?

When the Allies realized that Hitler was stealing the cultural treasures of Europe, we created the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the military (the MFAA).  The "Monuments Men" were a group of approximately 345 men and women from 13 nations who served in this mission.  In the last year of the war, they located and later returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.

In Clooney's film version, the group is reduced to seven.  When he presents the idea to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president asks skeptically if art is worth risking the lives of men.  When the war is over and the task is done, the president asks about one of the Monuments Men who died protecting a particular work of art: would that soldier have thought his sacrifice worthwhile?

In the last scene, an elderly Clooney (played by the actor's real father) stands before that work of art and affirms that the soldier would have agreed—preserving it was indeed worth his life.  We left the theater moved by the enduring value of art in a transient world where life is so short.  This was precisely the sentiment Clooney meant us to feel.

I understand why George Clooney is one of Hollywood's most popular leading men and a two-time Academy Award winner.  His humanitarian work has been much acclaimed.  But I disagree completely with his point in The Monuments Men and the worldview it advances.  Clooney, a former Roman Catholic, now states, "I don't believe in Heaven and Hell.  I don't know if I believe in God.  All I know is that as an individual, I won't allow this life—the only thing I know to exist—to be wasted."

If I agreed that there is nothing beyond death, I would see the world as Clooney does.  I would believe that defending timeless art is worth my life as a temporal being.  But if Jesus is right and George Clooney is wrong—if there is an eternal destination for each of us on the other side of this transient world—then your soul and mine will be alive ten thousand millennia after our tiny planet and every treasure it possesses are gone.  As Maximus says in Gladiator, "What we do in life, echoes in eternity."

So, should we live for the temporal or the eternal?  Let me suggest a third option: let's use earth for heaven, creation to serve the Creator.  Let's create and preserve excellent art for God's glory.  Once again, C. S. Lewis makes my point better than I can:

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."

At which are you aiming today?

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