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Adam, Eve and a mobster walk into a bar

The title of this column sounds like the opening line of a joke. Except it’s not funny.

What we believe about Adam and Eve, about the nature of man – where he came from; what’s his value; is he inherently good, bad, or something else? – is no laughing matter, for it forms the foundation for what we believe about a host of worldview issues: ethics, politics, economics and more.

Believing man is inherently good, for example, leads people to a latent resentment of the institutions that must, therefore, be responsible for evil (since man isn’t to blame, after all). Its logical conclusion is usually moral relativism. And believing man is of no inherent, individual value, for example, gives rise to all sorts of totalitarianism.

In fact one of the reasons America is so hotly divided on consequential issues like economics and politics is because America is so fundamentally confused about the nature of man.

Rarely has this confusion been so apparent than in the newly released mobster comedy, “The Family.”

In “The Family” actor Robert De Niro plays a New York mob boss who turned snitch and is now in the federal witness protection program, relocated with his family to rural France.

The comedy comes in his wife, daughter and son, who in their own unique ways, have picked up on Daddy’s methods of violence, extortion and thievery, and take their mob ways into the community, grocery store, high school and so on.

The plan is to stay indiscreet in the quiet little French hamlet, but the “Blake” family just doesn’t know how to get along in a world of mostly decent folks, when they’ve been living so long in the New York crime scene.

The comic setup is clever, and actors De Niro and especially Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife turn in solid performances. The jokes, unfortunately, are a bit far between and laced with a significant amount of gruesome violence and heavy obscenity, while the script doesn’t quite live up to the premise. Furthermore, there are some glaring and offsetting plot holes and improbable occurrences that just don’t add up.

In the end, I think big fans of the mobster genre may enjoy “The Family,” but most other audiences will find it somewhat disappointing.

What is notable about its worldview, however, is its brief and plot-twisting foray into the Catholic faith of Maggie, the mother in the family.

As her family slips into old and familiar patterns of mobster activity, Maggie slips off quietly to a church to pray: “I know, Jesus, deep down my family is not bad people. They just need you to guide them. I’m relying on you because I can’t do it all on my own.”

Do you hear the fundamental belief about the nature of man in that prayer?

Her husband is a cold-hearted murderer, she’s an arsonist, her daughter is violent and her son an extortionist – but “deep down they’re not bad people.”

Who, then, would be “bad people?” Her perspective – reflective of many in America – is the mistaken belief that people are all essentially “good.” Denying the clear evidence on the evening news and all of human history, even denying the obvious in her own family, Maggie proclaims there are no sinners, just those who need more “guidance.”

Later in the film, however, after going to confession with the parish priest, he reviles at her long list of sins and declares, “Your family is the incarnation of evil! Leave this place, for the love of God!” while slipping in something about the “spawn of Satan” for good measure.

In a gross mischaracterization of Christian doctrine, the church is portrayed as aghast and condemning of her family, the opposite of her insistence that they’re “not bad people.”

Yet neither of these perspectives – man is incorruptibly good; man is irredeemably evil – is true.

Across American society, it should come as no surprise that the culture – and Hollywood is a big part of that – just doesn’t understand the true nature of humanity.

By throwing away the Creation account, by laughing off Adam and Eve as fairy tales, the American culture is hopelessly confused, missing out on the truth that man was created for good, has inherent worth as made in the image of God, but has fallen, has become corrupted. Yet in Christ, he can be redeemed; what has been broken can be made new.

This explains both why men must be trusted to govern themselves and yet cannot be trusted to govern themselves, why freedom is critical to human existence, yet true freedom is only found in living by God’s moral code. Society will sway from one extreme (anarchy) to another (totalitarianism), all based on believing first man is good, then man is evil, struggling to understand why nothing works, until it discovers the only thing that does work is the old story it refuses to believe: that Adam and Eve were pronounced good, but fell, and now we like them are all sinners, of eternal worth, but inherently flawed, until we find redemption and new birth in Jesus Christ.

Praying to Jesus that “deep down, we’re all good people” denies that deep down we are all sinners. Declaring we’re all evil denies our creation and re-creation in Christ.

And if you really want to understand how confused the world can be in its persistent denial of the true nature of man, you can watch “The Family” and see for yourself.

But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Content advisory: