Ethos Education

The Dark Knight Rises: What obligations do the richest members of society have to the rest of us?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of Christian perspectives on the uses and responsibilities of wealth.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Recognise the unequal division of wealth within western society, and also between the developed and developing world.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the relationship between rich and poor people.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the responsibilities of wealth.
  • Evaluate how a modern Christian might seek to meet these responsibilities.

STARTER: 

Ask the students to brainstorm suggestions of the things that they spend their money on. Be careful not to get into how much money is spent on each of the things mentioned, particularly if you are aware of a wide range of different income levels in the families of your students. Write the suggestions on the board as the students make them.

Now look at the suggestions with the class and ask them to assess them in order of importance – i.e. which of the things they would spend the money on if they could only afford one thing, which would come next if they could afford one more and so on. Make the students prioritise in terms of need, rather than simply which things they want the most. This part of the lesson could be carried out in small groups, with a time to feedback their findings.

After you have given the students the opportunity to talk about their priorities for spending their money, explain that this lesson is going to look at money, and in particular about attitudes towards it. Explain that they are going to discover what Christianity teaches about money, and about the responsibilities that go with having it.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is turning up at a society party, following Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who recently stole a pearl necklace that belonged to Bruce’s mother. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Bruce’s discussion with the hostess of the party and to Selina’s argument about why it’s okay for her to steal from rich people.

  • Start time: 0.30.46 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.34.45
  • Clip length: 3 minutes and 59 seconds

The clip starts with Bruce arriving at the party and checking his name with the guest list. It ends with Selina leaving. The last line is Bruce saying, ‘Not likely’.

Ask the students why they think Bruce said that the party wasn’t likely to benefit charity, but rather the ‘ego of whichever society hag laid this on’. Do they think that some people support charitable causes for questionable motives?

Remind the students of Selina’s justification for stealing: ‘I take what I need from those who have more than enough. I don’t stand on the shoulders of people with less’. Do they think that is a reasonable basis for someone to steal? Is Selina morally justified in her actions?

If it hasn’t already come up, focus the students on Selina’s warning to Bruce:

‘There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, cos when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and then leave so little for the rest of us.’

Should rich people worry about inequalities of wealth? Is it reasonable for Selina to demand that the wealthy take an interest in ensuring that everybody else has enough money to live on and to thrive? Why shouldn’t the wealthy just look after their own interests?

Now split the class into small groups and ask each group to look at the following Bible passages. Amos 4:1-3; Amos 5:11-16; Amos 8:4-7. If you don’t think there will be enough time for each group to look at all three passages, you could ask different groups to start with different passages, which will mean that even if each group only tackles one passage, all three will have been looked at by someone, allowing feedback to be presented to the rest of the class. For each passage the students should answer the following questions:

  • What attitudes and actions are the wealthy described as having/carrying out?
  • Why do you think the writer considers this to be wrong?
  • What consequences does the Bible say will result (this question may need to be answered for the three passages taken together, rather than for each individually).

Take feedback from the different groups, and draw out the overall picture painted by Amos – that the rich were enjoying their wealth, even to the extent of oppressing the poor and needy (you may need to explain that oppressing means keeping the poor in a bad situation and actively preventing them from improving their position). You might like to point out some of the comparisons between the passages and the song lyrics, such as the description of wealth leading to injustice, and the mansions of the rich, both of which are mentioned in chapter 5.

Bring the students’ focus back to the present day, and ask them how they think rich people should use their wealth – is there anything wrong with them just enjoying their money, or should they feel some kind of responsibility to those who are in a less privileged situation? It might be helpful to point out to the students that since the early 1980s the gap between the richest 10% in Britain and the rest has consistently increased. In 2012, the poorest 10% of the population had only 1.3% of the total wealth, whereas the top 10% had 31% of the wealth – more than the bottom 50% put together. In the last ten years, 80% of the extra wealth created has gone to the top 50%, with 40% going to the top 10% alone. If some of the students feel that there is a level of responsibility that goes with wealth, ask them how wealthy somebody has to be before they should be expected to use their wealth for the sake of others.

You might want to allow this discussion to go on for a little while. Some students may feel that only the very rich should be expected to use their wealth to help others. Whether or not this is the case, point out to the class that when we think beyond national boundaries, everybody in the classroom could be considered as rich – in 1980 the Brandt report found that the developed nations (such as Britain and America) contained 25% of the world’s population while consuming 75% of its resources whereas the developing nations (sometimes referred to as the ‘Third World’) was trying to feed 75% of the global population with only 25% of the resources. Merely by virtue of living in a country like Britain, the students are likely to be in the world’s wealthiest 10%. Ask the students to consider the implications of these figures in the light of their thoughts on the responsibilities of wealth, and invite any comment that they may wish to make.

Explain to the class that Christians have always held that the privileges of money should not just be selfishly enjoyed by the wealthy. Christians do not believe money itself to be evil – point out that in one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible, Paul does not warn Timothy that money is the root of evil, but that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Explain that there are many passages in the New Testament that reflect the belief and practice of the early church regarding the responsibilities of wealth. Split the class back into their small groups, and give each group one of the following passages: Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:13-21; Acts 4:32-37. Ask each group to look at their passage and to answer the following questions for it:

  • What does the passage say about the attitude a Christian should have towards money?
  • What does the passage say about how Christians should use money?
  • Who is likely to benefit from this?

Allow time for the groups to feed their answers back so that everyone can hear the content of each passage. If more than one group has tackled some of the passages, give an opportunity for the students to discuss any differences of opinion as to the meaning of the verses.

SUMMARY ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write a speech to give to a gathering of the wealthiest members of society. The speech should call upon them to rethink how they use their wealth, and provide a Christian basis for the use of their wealth.

YOU WILL NEED:

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