The Circle - Proposing a Much Better Solution
If I told you that there was a new movie coming out with Emma Watson & Tom Hanks and that was all you knew of the movie, would you be interested to watch it? This was the situation in which I found myself recently. I had enjoyed both actors in the past and thought that I could not go wrong. And I was almost correct. The dystopian movie The Circle was the movie in question, but it did not satisfy in the least.
Nevertheless, one interesting question was asked in the movie on which the Christian worldview has much to say. The issue is that of accountability. At one point, after Emma Watson’s character has agreed to be on camera & audio live feeds 24/7, she is asked how such monitoring has affected her behavior. She replies that it has caused her to act or live better because of the accountability factor. From there, she extrapolates an interesting conclusion, that all people should be so monitored so as to modify their behavior. The idea is simple: if everyone knew that they were being watched all the time, they would not do some of the wrong things that they currently do because they think no one is watching them.
But this conclusion begs at least three primary questions.
1) Who will keep the people watching us accountable? Ultimately, everyone cannot watch everyone else all at once, so who will be watching and how can we watch them as they watch everyone else? In essence, the idea of universal accountability has some merit, but it only works if you can trust the people who are behind the screens. How do we know they can be trusted?
2) It begs the question of morality. If everyone’s every move is being monitored, who is to say when they step outside of what is considered acceptable? Who gets to define morality in such a scenario? Also, monitoring only someone’s actions leaves out the key components of desires and intentions.
3) Such a nanny state assumes that the people at the top (those in charge) are morally good, or at least neutral, themselves. But why would we think that such leaders would ever be morally good in a future nanny state where one’s every move is monitored, when our current leaders are not morally good now?
Ultimately, the movie fails to deliver on its main theme because it has not answered some fundamental questions first (morality, human intentionality, and human ability to do good). But more to the point, I could not help but think that a Christian worldview (which the movie and the book upon which it is based clearly do not have in mind) is the answer to the problem. What if a morally perfect being existed who could monitor everyone’s actions simultaneously and always come to a just decision? Only the God of Christianity fits that description. Furthermore, what if that God could change human beings from the inside out so that they had a desire to do what is right and just, and they had the power necessary to accomplish what is right and just? This too is exactly what the God of the Bible promises in the Bible for all those who will trust in Him.
So it seems that the accountability and morality that the movie is going for cannot be accomplished by merely seeking to change people’s external actions through constant surveillance. Rather, an internal change needs to take place along with an understanding of the fact that God is already watching everything we do and will judge it justly and rightly in the end. It is of great historical interest that in areas where there have been significant numbers of people becoming Christians (The First Great Awakening for example), the actions of the local communities (both by Christians and non-Christians) were markedly changed. For the Christian, this change is because of a new nature and new desires given by God.
For the non-Christian, change occurs in such contexts because a new understanding of accountability to a God with objective moral standards has now been realized by the Christians in the community. Interestingly, this is the way that history shows us a society can be changed to be more moral, but only the God of the Bible can and has accomplished this. Rather than considering turning our entire lives over to a giant corporation/government who watches our every move, the far better conclusion to draw from the ideas in this film is that such measures will never work. Instead, the only thing that has been shown to work is if people are changed from the inside out by trusting in the God of the Bible instead of their own wisdom.