I have a lot in common with Brad Pitt. For one thing, Pitt and I were both raised as Southern Baptists. Okay, unfortunately for my face that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike me, Pitt rejected the faith of his parents and eventually embraced a hybrid of atheism and agnosticism. So as I watched the Oscar-winning film 12 Days a Slave, I was more than a little surprised at the series of scenes where Pitt’s character made a simple yet indisputable case for the existence of God.
Pitt plays a fervently anti-slavery field hand that goes by the name Samuel Bass. In one scene, Bass voices his opposition to the unjust institution of slavery as he confronts the cruel slave owner of a Louisiana plantation:
- Bass: It is horrid. It’s all wrong. The law says you have the right to hold a man as a slave, but begging the law’s pardon, it lies. Is everything right because the law allows it? Suppose they’d pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?
- Slave-owner: That ain’t a supposable case.
- Bass: Because the law states that your liberties are undeniable? Because society deems it so? Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.
Did you catch it? Pitt’s character asserts that man-made laws are not the final word for “what is true and right”. As with all claims of moral truth, the case against slavery depended on the existence of a higher moral law that eclipsed man’s established laws.
In order for Bass’s higher moral law to exist, there must exist a higher moral law giver. Otherwise, any appeal against slavery is argued in front of an empty bench where no final judge is seated.
An intellectually-honest atheist or agnostic would have no answer to this simple question: Slavery is wrong? Says who?
Like every unbeliever I’ve ever met, we all inherently recognize that man’s laws are not the final determination of what is right and true. Like it or not, there is a Judge who has written His higher moral law on our hearts.
Romans 2:15-16 – They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]