Sermon for January 18th, 2015
2It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. 3 Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth, so the mind of kings is unsearchable. 4 Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; 5 take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness. 6 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; 7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. What your eyes have seen 8 do not hastily bring into court; for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? 9 Argue your case with your neighbor directly, and do not disclose another’s secret; 10 or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you, and your ill repute will have no end.
Faith & Film III: The Imitation Game
- Clip #1: Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2jRs4EAvWM
Three Minute Film Summary
The Imitation Game is a film about the real-life mathematician and code-breaker, Alan Turing. In his rather short life, Turing is credited with cracking the Nazi code that allowed the allies to finally turn the tide and win World War II. He's also considered to be the father of two very important fields today: Computer Science and Artificial intelligence.
The film begins near the end of Turing's life, as he is being interrogated by the police for what was then called "gross indecency." Turing was a gay man in an era where it was illegal to be so. From here, the movie jumps back in time to Bletchley Park in World War II-era England, where Turing and a select handful of others are assembled into a top-secret team tasked with the mission of cracking the German enigma machine--a machine that encrypts all German radio communications into 158 quintillion possible combinations. It was widely considered unbreakable at the time.
Periodically, the film jumps even further back in time to Turing's childhood at the Sherborne boarding school, where he is bullied by the other boys for being "an odd duck" until meets (and falls in love with) Christopher Morcum, an older boy, also very intelligent, who shows him compassion and introduces him to cryptography, the study of codes and cyphers. This relationship is cut short when Christopher dies of tuberculosis.
Back in Bletchley Park during the war, the adult Turing has built his own machine to crack the code of the Enigma machine, and he calls his machine "Christopher." After some tense moments where the project is almost shut down, Christopher proves successful. However, Turing and his team quickly realize that if they decrypt and act upon every intercepted Nazi transmission, the Nazis will realize the code is cracked and simply reprogram their machine. So Turing comes up with a mathematical formula to figure out just how often they can act upon this new intelligence to avoid detection and still win the war. In effect, they take on the Godlike task of deciding who will live and who will die.
When the war is over, they are sworn to secrecy and all documentation about their work is destroyed. Years later, when he is convicted of gross indecency, Turing is sentenced to chemical treatment with estrogen in attempt to "cure" him of his homosexuality. Shortly afterwards, he commits suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide. Decades pass before wartime documents are unclassified, finally revealing him to be a war-hero. Though not depicted in the film, just last year the Queen of England officially granted Turing a posthumous pardon in recognition of his contributions and heroism.
An Unexpected Christ Type
There's an old saying that to a hammer everything begins to look like a nail. I suppose that to a Christian everything begins to look like a Christ, and perhaps that's not such a bad thing, to see and recognize the image of our Lord reflected in the face of another, even where it was not intended.
Since this was a film based on historical fact, I wasn't even looking for a Christ type. But there he was. It's hard to ignore a Christ type when it's built into the very name itself. Christopher. Christ-opher. Turing's childhood friend, in the scene where he is introduced, saves young Turing's life from some school bullies. His first words to Alan Turing are "Christ, I thought they were going to kill you."
Turing follows Christopher around like a disciple, and Christopher teaches him the secret knowledge of cryptography, just as Jesus taught his disciples in secret parables. When Christopher doesn't return after the holidays, the headmaster summons Turing to give him the news of Christopher's death, since he has heard that Turing and Christopher were friends. But though he is obviously devastated, Turing (fearing the nature of his attraction to Christopher will be discovered) denies three times that he and Christopher are friends.
Later in the film, Christopher is "resurrected" in a "new body" as the machine that (wait for it...) saves the world.
- Clip #2: Christopher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvppZNe6jAQ
Secrets and Codes
Today's scripture passage from Proverbs teaches us that "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out." Certainly the theme of concealing things and searching things out is a recurring one in the film. If Christopher is a Christ-type, teaching young Alan Turing hidden things, then the adult Turing is a kind of God-type--attempting to create an intelligent mind, and deciding what information is revealed and what remains concealed. At one point in the film, another character tells him "You're not God, Alan. You don't decide who lives and who dies!" Turing responds firmly, "Yes. We do." There is no trace of megalomania or power-lust in his answer. In fact, it is obvious that Turing realizes and accepts the painful burden of playing God, out of necessity to save the greater number of lives.
Later in the film, when Turing is under investigation, it would have been very helpful for him to say, "Look, I'm a war hero. I saved all of your lives." Instead, he faithfully keeps his secret, even to his own detriment. In the gospel of Mark, whenever Jesus performs a miracle, he instructs his followers not to tell anyone that he is the messiah. When he is interrogated by Pontius Pilate, he refuses to reveal his secret, to his own detriment.
There is another sense in which The Imitation Game's theme of secrets and codes finds a parallel in the Bible itself. As Christians, we believe that understanding what the Bible actually says is important--a matter of life or death! And yet, there are probably at least 158 quintillion possible interpretations that have been advanced by pastors, theologians, and various religious communities through the years. In the film, it takes a machine to crack the code of a machine, and this is actually kind of similar to a core doctrine of the Reformation--that it takes scripture to interpret scripture. Or, taking another angle, in the film it is "Christopher" that cracks the enigma code. In Christianity, it is "through the lens of Christ" that we understand all scripture.
Proverbs 25 also talks about judgment: "What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court; for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor directly, and do not disclose another’s secret; or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you, and your ill repute will have no end."
Sadly, if Alan Turing's neighbors had followed this teaching, he might still be with us today, and who knows how far the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence might have advanced? Had he lived, he would have seen a time when his sexuality would have been more broadly accepted, or at least not judged as criminal and punished so cruelly.
But there's a subtle irony here when it comes to the theme of judgment: The name of the film, the "Imitation Game" comes from a paper Turing wrote, where he devised a way to judge whether or not a machine could someday truly be said to be "intelligent." That game, which he called the "imitation game" has since come to be called the Turing test, and today's computers inch closer and closer every year to being able to pass this test.
The idea is simple: Put a person and your "intelligent machine" behind a curtain, both communicating with a judge on the other side of the curtain through an agreed upon interface (typically a computer screen). The judge asks both questions, and if the judge cannot tell which is which from their responses alone, then the machine passes the test, and can be said to be intelligent.
- Clip #3: Turing Test. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTMEUA6VnJE
At one point in the film, Turing invites his interrogator to play the game on himself:
"Now, Detective, you get to judge. That’s how the game works. I answered your questions. You know my story. That’s the point of the game. We are all pretending to be something. Imitating something. Someone. And we are no more, and no less, than what we can convince other people that we are. So tell me: What am I? Am I a person? Am I a machine? Am I a war hero? Am I a criminal?
The detective, after thinking about it, says, "I can’t judge you." To which Turing replies, "Well then you’re no help to me at all."
In Matthew 7, Jesus famously tells his disciples, "Judge not, lest you be judged." I think we abuse that verse far too often, and we interpret it to mean something like, "Don't criticize me, I can do whatever I want." Alan Turing, of all people knew that we do judge others, and that's a necessary part of life. I think Jesus knew this too; that's why in the next verse he says: "For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get."
The key here is not necessarily avoiding all judgment...but rather judging people with the same charity, the same mercy, the same standard you yourself would like to be judged.
The beauty of the Turing test is that it attempts to place its subjects on equal footing--it gives them the benefit of the doubt, and does not pre-judge based on malice or or fear. It says, "If I can't tell the difference between you and you (or you and me) in a simple conversation...then there is no difference, and I should accept you as an equal.
The book of James has its own version of a Turing test: "Consider it a gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of any test prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."
You may never have the pleasure of taking (or giving) a Turing test, but all of us, man or machine, come to places and situations where our basic humanity is tested: My prayer for you is that as you judge others, you will be humane. And that as you are judged, you will be found to truly, beautifully, human, created in the image of God, and recognizing that same image in everyone...and possibly everything...you meet.