“You, madam, are addressing a man, who is in fact quiet… and yet, not quiet, if I may offer you a riddle.”
– The Professor to Mrs. Munson
Some villains stand out because of the threat they pose through sheer power or destructive capabilities. Professor G.H. Dorr, on the other hand, is of a different sort. Cutting the figure of a Southern gentleman, he seems to possess a devilish charm rather than devilish intent. As a matter of fact, his skills seem limited to a great capacity for thought, having been “trained in the art of cogitation”, and an aptitude for speaking. However, these tools are more than sufficient for him to manipulate others into helping him to achieve his goals. In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, the Professor is the mastermind behind a seemingly perfect riverboat casino heist. Having gathered to himself the necessary personnel and skill sets, the motley crew executes his plan without a hitch, that is until the owner of the house they’ve been using as a base finds out. The Professor then must convince the owner, one Mrs. Marva Munson not to call the police and turn them in. When he finds that straight up lying about their actions will not work, he turns to convincing her that what they did isn’t really so bad. He explains to her that the casino is itself little more than a den of thieves and inequity. Not only that, but it has an insurance policy to cover such losses as being robbed and, he claims, after doing the math, their little venture will not cost anyone more than a penny. Furthermore, he lies to Mrs. Munson, each of his accomplices and himself are going to donate a portion of their shares of the loot to charitable causes and they were going to donate a whole share to a cause particularly near and dear to her heart. The Professor rests his case by pointing out the good that can be done the money they donate at the cost of a single cent to all those adversely affected. When backed into a corner, Professor plays his most insidious card, trying to convince Ms. Munson that their crime is not such a bad thing and getting her to go along with it.
In the book of Jeremiah, God says that He will stretch out his hand against the Israelites “…Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15) God calls out the prophets and priests at this time, who were supposed to lead the people back to God and to speak His word to them, for being as corrupt as the rest of the people. Not only that, but they are unashamed of having become so. However what is perhaps most striking is that they have healed His people slightly. The word that gets translated as slightly carries with it the connotations of trifling or of little account. Arguably, the prophets and priests had made little of their job to direct the people to God and therefore done little to that end. On the contrary, they have comforted and further secured the people in their predicament by telling them that all is well when it is clearly not the case. The prophets and priests should have been telling the people to repent and change their ways. However, because they were also participants in the backsliding, they whitewashed the situation and lied to the people about the true state of things.
It is very tempting for us to do the same. We try to convince ourselves and others that there is no problem or even a need to change our course when we find our way into sin. We are all too eager to justify ourselves rather than repent and let God be our justifier. There are many reasons why we are inclined to do this: we shy away from admitting that we were in the wrong, or we enjoy our sin too much to let it go are just a couple of examples. At the core, however, we find ourselves playing the role of the Professor and trying to make our vices out to be virtues.
We have readily available to us the written Word of God which is able to reveal what is in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). When our sinful deeds are brought to light, we are faced with the choice either to continue in the way we are going or to turn back to God. Unfortunately, we often opt to continue on our merry way down the path of sin. The only problem is that it requires that we become hypocrites, claiming to be in the right while doing the very things that we know from God’s Word to be wrong. Being a hypocrite is not something that sits very well with us and so we try to rationalize the sin in our lives so that, in our minds, we aren’t doing anything wrong. We come up with excuses about how it is a greater good than harm or how others deserve whatever harm we may be causing them (even if it is just murdering them in our hearts), or how it really isn’t that big of a deal, seeing how in the grand scheme of things it only amounts to a drop the bucket…or a single penny.
The thing that makes these lies we tell ourselves (and others for that matter) so dangerous is that they lull us right into death. Like the prophets and priests from Jeremiah, we proclaim our peace and wellbeing when our souls are grievously wounded and rapidly bleeding out. There are few greater harms that we can do ourselves or others than to say that we are spiritually well when we teeter on the very lip of hell. It amounts to blinding ourselves to our real state and stopping our ears against God’s pleas to turn back while there is still time. These lies need not be our own inventions either. Paul writes to his protégé Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) It is not only ourselves, but many others as well who wish to paint what is noble as wicked and what is wicked as noble. This means that there is a large market for such lies and there are those who are all too eager to supply that market. Thus, we cannot rely on the world at large to be our guide and teacher in matters of the soul. Rather, our ability to stay on the straight and narrow path is a matter between God and ourselves, aided by those trustworthy souls that God brings alongside us in our pilgrimage.
What makes the Professor such an awful rogue is that he embodies that voice which gently and quietly leads us to the wrong on a daily basis. It often comes well-dressed and expresses itself with the greatest articulation. It is charming and seems harmless enough. As a matter of fact, it seems to have our best interests at heart. Nonetheless, behind the charming façade is a path that leads straight to hell.
Food for Thought:
- Is there a sin in my life that I have colored to be a virtue?
- In what ways am I tempted by the world’s lies about what is or isn’t right?
- Consider what a great gift it is that God has provided us with the Scriptures to be a guide and an anchor for us.