Spoiler alert. If you have not seen the movie, “The Purge,” then too bad. You will know about the plot in this post. 🙂
In this movie, the United States of America collapsed after economic and social disarray. We are not given the details of this, but are told that there is a new order that runs the nation. This order was developed by a totalitarian regime that is described as the “New Founding Fathers.”
Every year, these “New Founding Fathers” allow all criminal activity to be legal for 12 hours. This period is called, “The Purge.” The idea behind this “purge” is based on psychological research in the movie which claims that by having a psychological catharsis via the means of violence and aggression, then citizens will remove these inner animalistic drives and this in turn brings down crime. In other words, by letting out the aggression for 12 hours, American citizens will not have this aggression repressed throughout the year in their lives which will force them to commit crimes randomly. So by letting it all out on one night, they release all of this aggression from the Id and then can live normal lives guided by the super ego the rest of the year until they need to release that aggression again.
In the movie, we see a group of wealthy ivy-league educated Caucasian youths seeking a homeless African American man in order to butcher him. This is representative of the Darwinian view of “survival of the fittest.” The wealthy seek the poor in order to cause their extinction. We also see in the movie how other wealthy neighbors try to kill the family the movie’s plot is centered on due to the fact that they are jealous of their success and angry that the family made money off of them by selling security systems for protection during “The Purge” event. One of these neighbors is shown at the beginning of the film as being friendly with the wife of the main character who designed the security systems. This neighbor then tries to kill her later on in the movie and is insistent on doing so showing this animalistic aggression in her forcing her to try to kill the wife.
Psychologically speaking, the idea of a “purging” of aggression by allowing citizens to commit crimes for 12 hours is not scientific. Aggression brings about more aggression and not retaliating actually helps (Bushman, BJ. 2002). As a matter of fact, the only time aggression gives a sense of relief is when a victim attacks or kills someone who is trying to attack or kill him or her (Myers, D. 2013). This is due of course to the mere fact that the victim eliminated his or her threat. If you stopped someone from attacking or killing you, will you not feel relief? Anger is a natural emotion, but it has limits. We should never let angry get the best of us (Ephesians 4:26-27).
As we continue on in the season of Lent, I thought of this movie and the idea of “giving it up” during Lent. Catholics “give something up” during this period as penance. It is meant to bring our focus to God solely and as a symbolic gesture that we can give up anything for God. Lent is a true “Purging” that is healthy psychologically, physically and spiritually. Instead of going around and taking out our aggression on others for 40 days, we give something up for God. We show the strength of our character by sending out the message to ourselves and others that what we gave up does not control us. During Lent, we do more penance and perform more charitable acts. These should hopefully condition our minds, bodies and souls to be more Christ-like. Instead of holding grudges, we forgive those who hurt us and have mercy on others who may become problematic. Holding anger and grudges does not work and hurts our minds, bodies and soul (James 1:19-20).
Lent purges us of the disordered desires that original sin has developed in us forcing us to sometimes behave like mindless zombies just running on pure instinct. Jesus gave us an excellent example when He went into the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). In the Scriptures, going into the desert meant going into isolation in order to seek God. This is why the Hebrews went into the desert after they left captivity (Exodus 15:22). Lent should remind us of this. We leave the capitivity of sin and society’s scripts that often force us to behave in an unchristian manner in order to encouter God in the desert, so to speak. The desert is a hot, dry and weary place that will scare us, especially after we have become accustomed to societies “goods” and comforts. We prefer to know of the desert via images or text than to experience it first hand (Robinson, “On the Lord’s Appearing” p.205).
Like Israel, we will struggle and question God when the desert becomes too much to handle (Psalm 95:9). Then the ancient narcissistic cosmic pain in the rear named Satan loves to show up in order to tempt us and remind us of how “good” we had it before we accepted Christ. If we are not careful, we can fall into acedia or spiritual laziness/sloth which paralyzes us from being with God and living out the Christian life. While in the desert of Lent, we must come out victorious in Jesus and not create idols of gold like the Hebrews did in order to satisfy their materialistic desires (Exodus 32). Lent is the time to really focus on where we stand before God in light of the passion of the Christ.
God so loved us that He gave His only Son to die a horrible and humiliating death, so how do we return that love (John 3:16)? By giving up meat on Fridays and fasting, we remind ourselves that while we are biological organisms needing nutrition, we are also spiritual beings who need God and without this God we would not exist (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3). What is a steak or three full meals compared to living in God who is the creator of life? It is via this penance, prayer, reception of the sacraments, reading of Sacred Scripture that we purge ourselves truly. We begin to realize that the things we gave up that we depended on really are not needed. A true self-actualization takes place that surpasses anything Maslow could have formulated. During Lent, the mind, body and soul return to their equilibrium because God is the only center that holds and can hold us together. May Jesus Christ be praised forever!