Higher Movies: Widening Your Gaze on Sherlock Holmes

by the Rev. Rich Heinz 

Sherlock Holmes"Mr. Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I'm concerned you underestimate the gravity of coming events. For you and I are bound on a journey that will twist the very fabric of nature," says Lord Blackwood, a nobleman imprisoned, thanks to Sherlock Holmes.  Lord Blackwood has engaged in murders – human sacrifices – to secure his power over others, enshrouded by the occult.  Blackwood has Londoners convinced that he is risen from the dead and can perform black magic, and in a Mason-like secret society, he attempts to gain control of the British Empire.  He repeatedly chides Holmes and others for their “unbelief.” 

Have you surfed the “Christian” blogoshpere lately?  It’s fascinating to see all sorts of people crying out against the movie because of its occult theme.  Pious (and Pietistic) commentators are urging Christians to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Ach!  Run away!  Don’t give the devil your ticket money!   

But are their urgings and protests for the right reasons? 

SPOILER ALERT.  If you will be annoyed by reading more about the plot, stop, see the film, and return to your computer.  Then log onto HT and pick up here where you left off. 

The “powers” of Lord Blackwood, in the end, are discovered to be technological and psychological – not diabolical.  While an evil man, and a wicked, murderous criminal, Lord Blackwood’s “magic” is explained away by the Detective from 221b Baker Street. 

Yet, is this not also a danger?  Explaining away evil, and dismissing the spiritual as superstitious is a threat to the Church.  The “believers” in Blackwood’s abilities were seen as the spiritual ones in the film, yet they were also the simple-minded fools who were not thinking for themselves.  Those who did not “believe” were seen as the more rational and mature ones. 

Sherlock Holmes (at least in this film, I cannot recall more references in the literary works) has little regard for things spiritual.  He takes pride in human wisdom, observation, deduction, and other capabilities, whilst God “takes a back seat.”  When “the game’s afoot,” it is not the wisdom of God or His mercy and work that are central, but the abilities of man – namely the man, Sherlock Holmes. 

Is there a first commandment issue in the film?  Perhaps, but not in a “Wow!  It’d be cool to be like Blackwood and control people with black magic from the devil!”  Rather, the danger is a fear, love, and trust in one’s self (along with one’s wisdom, critical thinking and deduction, etc.) above all things. 

Should Holmes’ gaze be widened, as the imprisoned Blackwood asserts?  Yes.  Again, his gaze should not be widened to the submission to any secret apron-wearing, secret handshake giving nonsense, or even to the dark deeds and words of the occult.  Holmes’ gaze should be widened to fix his eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith! 

Bottom line: is it wrong to see Sherlock Holmes?  Only if your parents tell you “no.”  (It then becomes a 4th Commandment issue.) 

Skepticism, scrutiny, and unbelief face the Church every day.  Your $8.50 will not be promoting devil worship; actually, this film mocks that.  Theologically, the worst aspect of the film is Holmes’ self-worship.  And when it comes down to it, that is the heart of Old Adam, who is a part of our daily struggle.  We have the same sin as this fictional character, with a pretty big log to pull out before we get the speck out of his fictitious eye. 

Yes, dear baptized friends, your gaze does need to be widened.  Not to succumb to evil, not to debate over movies.  When your human frailty cannot see from the darkness of this world, the Holy Spirit widens your gaze to behold the King of Kings – Wisdom enfleshed – the Light of Light – who reveals Himself to you.  

The Rev. Rich Heinz is Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church & School in Chicago, Illinois.  He is the Chaplain for this summer’s Given in Memphis, TN.  He is also a fan of the Sherlock Holmes legend, and enjoyed this fast-paced reinvention of this detective.

Created: January 5th, 2010