Ethos Education

Captain America: The First Avenger: What are human beings like?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand Christian teaching about the concept of sin.
  • Understand what Christians believe about the consequences of sin in people’s lives today.
  • Understand what Christians believe about the eternal consequences of sin.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the qualities that define someone as a good or bad person.
  • Analyse arguments about human goodness with reference to a scene from Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • Reflect upon Jesus’ statement that no one is good except God himself.
  • Analyse Bible passages and interpret Christian teaching about the sinful condition of human nature.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine Christian understanding of God’s response to human sinfulness.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a Christian response to one of the characters in Captain America: The First Avenger.

STARTER:

Put the students into small groups and give each group a set of cards, cut out from the Good Person worksheet in advance of the lesson. Ask each group to turn over the cards one by one and decide whether the quality listed on the card makes someone a good person, a bad person, or is irrelevant to whether they should be considered good or bad. Here are the qualities listed on the cards:

  • Only thinks about self
  • Does voluntary work
  • Has a well paid job
  • Gives money to charity
  • Devoted to his or her family
  • Has poor personal hygiene
  • Laughs at others’ misfortune
  • Helps old ladies across the road
  • Friendly to strangers
  • A good laugh
  • Always does homework on time
  • Good at sport
  • Flirts a lot
  • Cheats on boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Talks behind friends’ backs
  • Walks the street as a vigilante, fighting crime
  • Takes part in political protests against social injustice
  • Avoids paying tax as much as legally possible

After the students have allocated all of the cards, invite the groups to report back on their findings. What qualities made someone a good person? What other qualities – not on the cards – do the students think would make someone ‘good’

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be watching a film clip about someone whose goodness was essential to his recruitment for a special role, and thinking about what Christians believe about the essence of human nature.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount, 2011, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that in this clip we get a glimpse of an American army unit, one of whom will be selected for experimental procedure designed to turn him into a super-soldier.  Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci) gives as his reasons for selecting Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) for the programme.

  • Start time: 0.21.53 (in chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.26.47
  • Clip length: 4 minutes and 54 seconds

The clip starts with Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) saying, ‘Faster, ladies; come on.’ It ends with Dr Erskine saying, ‘… I’ll drink it now!’ If you want a shorter clip, you could start at 0.23.22 (beginning of chapter 4 of the DVD). This shorter clip starts with a knock at the door and Dr Erskine saying, ‘May I?’

Ask the students why Dr Erskine selected Steve Rogers, rather than the more obvious soldierly candidate the Colonel (Tommy Lee Jones) wanted. What qualities did Steve show that convinced Dr Erskine he had found the right candidate? Do you agree with Dr Erskine’s reasons?

Remind the students of Dr Erskine’s description about the problems with his serum – it doesn’t only enhance physical condition, it enhances all other attributes too, meaning that bad aspects of personality, etc will become much worse. That is the reason why he recognised the need to find a good man for his programme, not just a good soldier.

Remind the students of the earlier discussion about what makes a good person. Give out Bibles and ask the students to turn to Mark 10:17-18 (Luke 18:18-19 is a parallel passage which will work just as well if you prefer that).

Read through the passage with students. Why do they think Jesus challenged the man’s description of him as ‘good teacher’? If necessary, clarify that Jesus does not seem to have been denying that he was good. Rather, he was challenging the man to think about his (Jesus’) identity. Jesus’ statement that ‘No one is good – except God alone’ is often taken by Christians to indicate Jesus identifying himself as God.

Ask the students whether they agree with Jesus’ statement that ‘No one is good’. Is it true that no human being is truly good? If that is true, then what standard of goodness is applied to humanity, such that nobody attains it?

Ask the students, working in pairs or in small groups, to look at Genesis 3:1-24; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:9-18 and to make notes on what each passage says about human beings. With less able students, it may be best to focus on just one passage (possibly Genesis 3 or Romans 3), while more able students ought to be able to synthesise information from all the passages.

Get some feedback on what the students have discovered about what the Bible has to say about humanity. Draw out the Christian belief that although humans are made in God’s image, they have rebelled against God and spoiled that image. If you were looking for a single word to sum up the Christian assessment of people, ‘rebellious’ might be the most appropriate. Remind the students of Jesus’ claim that no one, other than God, is good. To what extent do these passages underline that point of view?

Explain that this rebelliousness against God is what Christians understand by the word ‘sin’. As the Bible passages earlier showed, Christians regard sin as the defining problem faced by humans, a problem so serious that without a solution it will cut people off from God for eternity. Fortunately, Christians believe that God has provided the solution to this problem.

Put the students into small groups, and ask the students to work together to summarise Romans 3:21-26 verse by verse. Once they have had a go at this, give out the Romans 3 worksheets, and ask the groups to decide which summary matches each of the verses. Working on their own summaries first will help the students to understand and recognise the right summaries. For less able groups, you may prefer to give out the worksheets in the first instance. In either case, make sure that they are aware that there are more summaries than verses, and that some summaries are red herrings. Here are the summaries:

A: Everybody has done things wrong, and aren’t good enough for God.
B: God changed his mind, and has come up with a new plan.
C: God shows everyone that he is just, by punishing wrongdoing but also providing a way out, if people put their trust in Jesus.
D: If someone tries hard enough, they can be seen to be good enough for God and earn his goodwill.
E: The basis of being considered good enough is whether or not someone believes in Jesus.
F: People don’t deserve to be put right with God, but because of Jesus they can be.
G: Now there is a new way of measuring goodness, and God had it planned all along.
H: Jesus’ death pays the price for all the wrong things everybody else has done, and God had held off punishing these things so that this could happen.

The correct sequence of summaries is G, E, A, F, H, C, and the red herrings are B and D.

Take feedback from the previous exercise, and make sure that the students have understood the Bible passage. Explain or draw out from them that Christians believe that because Jesus was perfect, and died to take the punishment that everyone else deserved, so God looks at people who have put their faith in Jesus and sees them as having his righteousness (you might want to explain that in this context, righteousness means goodness – being right with God, not having any wrongdoing that comes between somebody and God). The Christian standard for measuring goodness is Jesus’ perfect goodness.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a conversation between Dr Erskine and a Christian. When Dr Erskine explains how his serum amplifies both the good and bad in someone, the Christian should offer warnings about sinful human nature and the problems that this will pose to Dr Erskine’s intention of finding a good man on whom to conduct his experiment.

YOU WILL NEED:

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