Captain America, Bucky, and Moral Responsibility



(Orthodox Fox)


May 9, 2016

Heads up: This post contains minor spoilers for Captain America: Civil War (Winter Soldier too).

Do we have moral responsibility for our actions if they have been predetermined for us? This question has massive implications on our view of reality and is briefly touched on in Captain America: Civil War.

In Captain America: Winter Soldier, we discover that Captain America’s long-lost buddy, James “Bucky” Barnes, has been brainwashed and turned into a human weapon. In Civil War, we witness how Bucky is controlled: through a series of random trigger words that open him up to suggestion and forces him to follow his captors’ commands. Captain America and Bucky have a very brief conversation about this after Cap saves his buddy from being apprehended by the authorities. Cap tells Barnes that he wasn’t responsible for his crimes but Bucky responds that he still did them, implying that he was still responsible since he physically committed these acts. This presents an interesting dilemma: Is Bucky responsible for his atrocities, even though he was brainwashed to do them against his will? Cap says no; Bucky thinks yes.

Civil War MemeThe same way that I sided with Captain America in his broader struggle against Iron Man (if you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil what that was about), I also side with Cap in this ethical discussion with Bucky. If Bucky did not freely choose his actions, if they were forced upon him by brainwashing tactics, then he cannot be held accountable for them. We can apply this same reasoning to all of humanity: If we have no free will and all of our actions are predetermined for us, either by the laws of nature or divine micro-managing, then we cannot be held accountable for our actions.

This is what should encourage religious folk to reject divine determinism. If God has written a script that human beings merely follow, then how can we be held accountable for our evil actions? We can’t. It is also great reason to reject physical determinism: If atheistic naturalism is true, we have no free will but merely “dance to our DNA”. The pedophile who molests children and mother who loves and cares for her children are merely doing what their biology dictate that they do and neither can truly be blamed or praised for their actions.

The real argument is not Captain America vs. Iron Man but free will vs. determinism. If your worldview cannot account for free will then you cannot affirm morality. But if you think that morality is real and humans are truly responsible for their actions, then you must reject any deterministic worldview.

So pick your side: #TeamFreeWill or #TeamDeterminism. But the irony is that if you think you freely chose determinism, you are really affirming free will!

Featured image credit: Captain-America by TNS Sofres


About the Author



(Orthodox Fox)

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. He lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and two young children.

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