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Child Messiah: A Look at Ender's Game

Recently, a film titled Ender’s Game (a film adaptation of the science fiction best-seller with the same name) was released at the box office to a myriad of reviewers and fans alike arguing about the importance of the story’s focus on war, aggression, and passivism. Now there are many parallels one could make regarding the modern wars the USA has engaged in and the pre-emptive strike tactics used in the film, but I wanted to take a much more thematic look at the main character that so apparently seems to have religious connotations. Ender himself, in the film and novel, appears to embody many religious themes regarding war, nonviolence, and the Christian understanding of an all-loving, all-powerful God. I want to delve into the meaning behind Ender’s character and ultimately argue whether Ender is a symbol of Christian doctrine of just-war or a symbol of a more wrathful messiah similar to pre-Christian sentiments regarding the foretold Davidic-messiah.

In Catholic teaching, Christ comes in the form of an entirely different messiah than the ancient Jewish people had expected. Christ came in the form of a vulnerable child, what many would consider abnormal or unexpected. According to Catholic teachings, Christ is the messiah that the Old Testament speaks of. In the space-fiction novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, a young child is built up to be a war-machine to help defend the human race. Card does a wonderful job entering into moral conversation regarding war and humanity, but under the surface there is a constant theme that drives the novel’s compelling tale. We are immersed into a tale where a child messiah is abused by humanity for waging war. The thematic elements that show us that Ender is the messiah also hint that Ender’s true nature is the Christ figure. In Ender’s Game, the human race, especially the military, puts an emphasis on Ender being the Davidic-warrior. He should be this commander who will fight for goodness and lead the nations. What is so important in the story is how the unexpected reality of Christ the messiah shines through in Ender, although he still becomes the Davidic-warrior. Ender is the Christ figure, but humanity abuses the power Ender has to wage war. Ender’s own journey as the false messiah leads him to become the true messiah by recognizing the “lies” that humanity has purported. In this symbolism, the reader finds Christ’s message buried beneath the ethical conversation. Here we find the message that will unite the nations and conquer all foes; it comes in the most strange and unexpected package of a child-soldier, one who embodies the love and compassion of Christ.

To begin this journey through Davidic history and the parallels to Ender’s story, we must understand the expectations of the messiah and God in Jewish culture. Looking back on the Old Testament, there is evidence that the people of Israel were promised a king that would lead them and free them from all their oppressors. In Numbers 27:15-17 “Moses spoke to the Lord, Saying ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in” (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version). The Jewish people of Jesus’ time expected to be redeemed according to the scriptures. In Isaiah 59:20, the text reads, “The Redeemer will come to Zion”. Considering all that has happened to the Israelites in their oppression from the Egypt, the Babylonian captivity and exile, and then the Roman rule at the time of Jesus, it is not unusual for the Jewish people to consider their need for a military leader (a King even) that would redeem them.

According to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, when the messiah comes to the world, he should conquer the nations. How then does it look when Christ arrives in his vulnerability and weakness? In Luke’s Gospel, the story begins with a comparison between the kings of the era and the new king—Christ the King. In Luke 1:5, it reads, “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah . . . ” and then later in Luke 2:1-2 there is mention of more powerful individuals of the time: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus. . . . This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria”. All of this seems to be unimportant though, as the story does not begin to talk of the most important leaders of the world, but of this tiny, vulnerable God-baby. Later the Gospels seem to contradict what the Jewish people expected. Christ does not go about using the sword to make his message known, but rather he heals the sick, stands with the oppressed, and loves the poor. In Psalm 72, the scriptures read, “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. . . . May he have dominion from sea to sea. . . . May his foes bow down before him. . . . May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute. . . . May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service”. Essentially what is being communicated is that there will be a new king that will bring forth righteousness. What the Jewish people misunderstood was that the king might not come in a way that dominates the world with the sword, but with peace and love. Thus when the messiah came in such an inglorious way it was unexpected to many of the Jewish people of the time; it caused doubt and disbelief.

In regards to this talk of the Davidic-warrior versus Chris the King, we must now analyze the story of Ender’s Game to see the clues that reveal Ender is symbolic of the modern Davidic-warrior. Let us parallel the people of Israel with the people of the entire world in the novel. To an extent, the people of the world in Ender’s game are defeated; they have been attacked by the dangerous alien race, the buggers, and are struggling to rebuild society. The struggle has even caused a destruction of most religion and a restriction on birth numbers in order to keep the government and economy stable. Some could argue that, to an extent, the loss of religion in the society is harkening back to the subtle loss of faith that the Pharisees show in the Gospels. The Pharisees and Sadducees seem to forget why they have faith in religion, and the people of Earth have also lost the faith. The humans of Earth also hold a deep hope in their hearts for a new commander to save them from the looming threat of the buggers. They seek a messiah to lead them out of despair from the threat of the bugger invaders.

Colonel Graff, in the book, is the embodiment of the human race’s desire for a Davidic-warrior messiah. Early on, it is clear that he hopes to have Ender save humanity. He seems to recognize Ender as a pseudo-religious figure, and Ender’s parents do likewise:

The badge of pride that Graff speaks of could be Ender’s parents’ steadfast religious conviction. In a world where religion is looked down upon, somehow Ender is still seen as a semi-religious figure for Graff and definitely for his parents.

While Ender is with the other students in Battle School, where the children learn to fight before going on to Command School, he meets many individuals who seem to recognize him as a more than just a leader. Some seem to step outside their restriction from religion in order to acknowledge Ender as the messiah. “On impulse Ender hugged him, tight, almost as if he were Valentine. . . . [Alai] grinned. ‘Go slice up the buggers.’ . . . Alai suddenly kissed Ender on the cheek and whispered in his ear, ‘Salaam.’ Ender guessed that the kiss and the word were somehow forbidden. A suppressed religion, perhaps” (69). The word Salaam comes from the Arabic word meaning peace. The kiss on the cheek and the word peace are evident of an individual honoring a religious figure. In the Catholic tradition, this reference can be linked to the sign of peace during the Eucharistic part of the mass. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1301 reads, “The sign of peace that concludes the rite of the sacrament signifies and demonstrates ecclesial communion with the bishop and with all the faithful”. At this point in Ender’s journey, some are attempting to make him into the messiah similar to who the Jewish people wanted before Christ—a warrior king who would conquer the nations—and others are recognizing Ender as a loving and caring leader. This is a crucial step in seeing Card’s parallel to Ender, the Davidic-warrior, and the true messiah: Christ.