Last weekend, my husband and I took our kids to see John Carter, Disney’s ambitious adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fiction novels. Critics are mixed on their reviews, and the film has a long history of industry controversy, but I thought it was a fun film — and one that touches on something about human nature and the causes we for which we fight.
Through an unexpected encounter in a cave in Arizona, former Confederate Captain John Carter finds himself on Mars, and in the middle of an epic fight between the giant cities of Zodanga and Helium (and the scheming machinations of the mysterious and malevolent Therns). When Tardos Mors, the ruler of Helium, tells his daughter that she must marry their enemy in order to save the city, he tells her it might be the will of the Goddess. Dejah’s response is resigned but insightful: “No, this is your will.”
All too often, out of fear, shame or selfishness we will use the idea of fate or God’s will to justify our own actions and decisions. But really, those choices and actions are born of our own will.
In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard says that the will — or “spirit” — lies at the center of who we are. Our actions, he says, are not merely an outcome of or movement of the will alone: “Often — perhaps usually — what we do is not an outcome of deliberate choice and a mere act of will, but it is more of a relenting to pressure on the will from one or more of the dimensions of the self.” Our will, Willard says, is influenced by our whole person, including feelings, thoughts, social contexts and desires of our bodies. Our will, in other words, “is very largely at the mercy of the forces playing upon it from the larger self and beyond.”
As for Tardos Mors, his will is influenced by his desire to maintain power and protect his city — these are his causes. His love for his daughter, however great, and his commitment to (as Dejah puts it to John Carter later) the “noble cause” of the survival of Mars as a whole are relegated lower. When he tries to persuade Dejah to go along with his decision by suggesting it is the will of the Goddess, she sees through his words and to the heart of the problem.