Ethos Education

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: What makes it hard to tell right from wrong?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consider the purpose and value of morality.
  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Evaluate the truth of a number of statements about morality.
  • Reflect upon the problems of determining right and wrong experienced by a character from a film clip.
  • Consider whether morally dubious actions are acceptable when carried out with the intention of furthering a morally just cause.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine a Christian understanding of the relationship between compromise, morality and wisdom.
  • Synthesise learning by suggesting different courses of action in response to a moral problem.


Ask all of the students to stand up. Ask them to remain standing if they think that the statement you are about to make is correct. After each statement invite one or more students to explain their verdict, then get everyone standing again for the next statement. Here are the statements:

  • It is morally wrong for companies and wealthy individuals to use legal loop holes to avoid paying tax.
  • Weapons of mass destruction are morally wrong.
  • It is okay for a government to use weapons of mass destruction on the enemy during a time of war.
  • It is morally right for the government to crack down on welfare benefit cheats, even if doing so means some legitimate claimants lose some or all of their benefits.
  • Right and wrong are always determined by context, not by whether a specific action is inherently right or wrong.
  • It’s easy to know the difference between right and wrong.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be considering how easy it is (or isn’t) to tell right from wrong, and looking at how Christians make that determination.


Introduce the clip from the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel, 2014 certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) was a super-powered hero during the Second World War, and has been revived in the modern day after spending nearly seventy years frozen in ice and recruited to fight terrorism by the security agency SHIELD. Prior to this clip Steve has been struggling to come to terms with the modern world, and particularly what he sees as the questionable morality behind SHIELD’s approach to tackling evil and terror. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Steve has to say about doing what is right.

  • Start time:       0.17.13 (beginning of chapter 4 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.21.30
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 17 seconds

The clip starts with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) riding his motorbike, before making an incognito visit to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. The last line is Steve saying, ‘Well, I couldn’t leave my best girl, not when she owes me a dance.’

Remind the students of Steve’s line, ‘For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I’m not quite sure what that is anymore.’ How easy do the students think it is to know the right thing to do in any given situation. Is there such a thing as absolute right and wrong?

Show a second scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In this scene Steve is on the run with Natalia Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). They have discovered that SHIELD has been infiltrated by Hydra and they are being hunted as traitors. In an earlier scene, SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has pointed to Romanoff as an example of an agent with a more flexible morality than Steve Rogers. He knows that she will always be willing to do anything that is asked of her in the cause of the greater good, without worrying whether what she is doing is right or wrong. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Romanoff’s reflection on her situation.

  • Start time:       1.06.14 (in chapter 10 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.08.24
  • Clip length:      2 minutes and 10 seconds

The clip starts with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) out running. When he returns home, he is interrupted by a knock at his door. The clip ends after Wilson says, ‘I made breakfast, if you guys eat that sort of thing.’

Remind the students of Romanoff’s line, ‘I thought I knew whose lies I was telling, but I guess I can’t tell the difference anymore.’ Is it okay to do something morally wrong – such as telling lies – if you are doing it for a cause that is morally right? How can people be sure that the things we do are being done in a good cause? Allow some time for the students to discuss this dilemma.

Give out the Right and Wrong and the Bible worksheets and some Bibles. Ask the students, working individually or in pairs, to look up each of the passages and summarise what the passage has to say about right and wrong, and about the best way of achieving moral objectives.

Here is a list of the passages cited on the worksheet, with brief notes on their relevance to this discussion:

  • Luke 10:25-28 (the starting point for knowing how to live is to love God first, and then to love neighbours as ourselves. If those two things are happening, our actions are likely to be morally right).
  • Matthew 5:13-16 (the importance of not becoming compromised – how can salt that loses its saltiness become salty again?).
  • Matthew 10:16-20 (the importance of being shrewd, but also being innocent).
  • 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (this doesn’t say that Christians should change what they believe to suit other people, but they should change how they present their beliefs in order to help any given person to better understand God’s truth).
  • Ephesians 5:8-21 (Christians should live pure lives, wisely discovering God’s will for them and following it).
  • Philippians 4:8-9 (put into practice the things that are morally good, pure and noble).


As a final exercise, ask the students to identify a situation where it is simple to see what is morally right or wrong, but harder to identify the best way of responding to the situation. They should write a brief summary of the problem and then suggest one or more appropriate responses, explaining how each response is based on principles of Christian living.


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