Why has American Sniper struck such a chord with the American public? No doubt in part this is due to the incredible storyline and cinematography, but other factors are certainly at play in such a blockbuster hit. While critics have scrutinized various aspects of Chris Kyle’s story, something within us is still attracted to a man with integrity (that term being defined as consistency between one’s beliefs and actions). As Kyle heads off to war in Iraq, backing-up his fellow countrymen as a sniper, his simple conviction about the importance of defending good against evil—and his willingness to act on that belief—is attractive to the viewer. His skill as a sniper, and record as the all-time crack marksmen in U.S. military history, almost become secondary.
As Owen Strachan notes at the Patheos blog, this movie has “struck a chord” because:
“We are in an age that does not want to believe in manhood, at least the traditional kind. Men are not supposed to be strong today. They are not supposed to lead their families. They are not supposed to take ownership of provision for their household. They are not supposed to be fearless. Modern men have had their innate manhood bred out of them.
“As a result, many men today don’t want to sacrifice for others. They want to be nice, and liked by everyone, and to win the approval of their peers.”
“Against this backdrop, American Sniper is a rather shocking entrée. It presents a simple man who lives by a black-and-white moral code. He is traditional. This is not existential manhood; this is non-existential manhood. Kyle does what he thinks he should do, and does not second-guess himself. He believes that he should use his God-given strength and ability to defend the weak and defeat the wicked. He believes, in fact, that there are wicked people in the world. He is not afraid to say so. He is not afraid to act on this conviction.”
Yet, “Kyle was no wilting flower. He was not a perfect man. He knew this. He was rough around the edges, he sometimes shot off his mouth, and he had a tough time with rules. In other words, he was a classically aggressive man. Our culture wants to anesthetize such men, to stick a tranquilizer in them and dose them up on medication to tame their natural aggression.”
Strachan continues, “[t]his is not what the church advocates, however. The church gives men a vocabulary for their aggression, their innate manliness. It funnels their God-given testosterone in the direction of Christlike self-sacrifice for the good of others (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 3). It does not seek to tame men, or ask them to become half-men (or half-women). It asks them to channel all their energy and aggression and skill into the greatest cause of all: serving the kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ.”
Moreover, as men lead in this way, it is attractive to women. Strachan notes the presence of a number of young women in the movie theater, presumably excited to see this man in action.
Women are attracted to a man on this journey in which he fights courageously for Christ.
For Christ “was fearless. He was brave. We don’t know how big his shoulders were, or how handsome he was, or how fast he could run. We do know that he laughed in the face of evil, and gave no quarter to his opponents, and did not apologize for claiming that he was the way, the truth, and the life. Even as death took him down, he struck a climactic blow against the kingdom of darkness. He crushed it. He ended the reign of Satan, and began the true reign of the Son of God. Jesus was not a pacifist. He was a conqueror, and he will return to judge the quick and the dead.”
At that point, this “true man, who redeemed us, will lead us into a world where heroes do not die, but live forever with their God.”
Until that time, Chris Kyle’s conviction can help serve as a reminder of what conviction truly means.