The Ethics of Avengers: Infinity War

It was the snap heard around the universe. Ten years of Marvel movies had been heading towards this moment in Avengers: Infinity War. One by one, Thanos assembled the six Infinity Stones to make him the most powerful being in the world. And with the snap of his gauntlet-clad fingers, Thanos fulfilled his mission and eliminated half of the living creatures in the entire cosmos. But why would he do this?

Thanos destroyed half of the universe, supposedly to save it. He sought the perfect balance between existing resources and living things. He first recognized the overpopulation problem in his own homeworld and offered randomized genocide as a solution. But when his people rejected his solution, his fears came true and his civilization died from a lack of resources. So, he decided the universe must be “saved” by force, traveling from planet to planet, killing half of its inhabitants.

While the character Thanos is fictional, his ideas are not. We constantly hear concerns over pollution, carbon emissions, overpopulation, scarcity, etc. Thanos is not the only one who can calmly rationalize genocide for the “greater good.” Throughout history there has been genocide, eugenics, euthanasia, child limits, forced sterilizations and abortions, and other horrors, all in the name of “progress” and the betterment of humanity.

This all leads to the long-standing question: Do the ends justify the means? What if Thanos killing half of a planet’s population truly did alleviate its suffering and lead it to prosperity? He claimed this was the case for the home of his adopted daughter, Gamora. Her planet was poor and dying, but after killing half of its inhabitants, it became wealthy and prosperous. Was it worth it?

Trading Lives
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (NIV)

To prevent Thanos from accumulating all of the Infinity Stones, Vision suggests that Scarlet Witch should destroy the Mind Stone embedded in his forehead, possibly killing him in the process. Captain America responds with one of the most iconic lines from the movie: “We don’t trade lives.” Cap was not willing to trade one person’s life to save others’. He resolved to find another way in which no one had to die.

Cap wasn’t the only one unwilling to trade lives to prevent Thanos from gaining Infinity Stones. Loki gives up the Space Stone to save Thor. Doctor Strange surrenders the Time Stone to save Ironman, even though Strange had previously told Ironman that he would never do that. Contrast this with Thanos, who readily trades his adopted daughter Gamora—whom he apparently loves—to gain the Soul Stone. While the heroes all embody the Gospel—sacrificing yourself for the ones you love—Thanos represents the anti-Gospel—sacrificing others for your purposes.

Sadly, this anti-Gospel and its rationalization permeates our culture. Some abortion advocates claim that it is more merciful to abort children with Down Syndrome or those who would be born into poverty, than to let them live. The same reasoning is applied to euthanizing the sick and elderly. Historically, tyrants have killed millions, all in the name of the greater good. These are all cases of “trading lives,” of making one group of people’s lives hypothetically better at the expense of others.

The Ultimate Trade
While none of our heroes were willing to sacrifice others’ lives to thwart Thanos’s plan, they were all willing to sacrifice their own lives. Gamora and Vision both ask to have their lives taken to prevent Thanos from gaining Infinity Stones. In the movie’s upcoming sequel, Avengers: Endgame, it is expected that some of our favorite heroes will sacrifice themselves to restore all of those who were killed by Thanos. This reflects the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ when he was crucified:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

Jesus took our sins and gave us his righteousness. His one sacrificial act resurrects us from our spiritual death. This is the model by which Christians are called to live their lives.

Avengers: Infinity War raises many important ethical questions: When is it justified to take a human life? Can we sacrifice some for the good of many? Is it ever right to “trade lives”? Unlike Thanos, the Avengers refuse to treat people as a means to an end. They embody the Gospel, as they are all willing to give their lives to save others. Let us do the same.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at