“One hundred and fifty-nine million, million, million, if you want to be exact.” The impossible to crack Enigma machines in use by the German military in WWII had those odds in its favor. Each day, you have 1/159,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance of knowing what the Germans were going to do.
The history of Enigma and those who tried to break its code went from pre-WWI Germany, to Poland to England. It was ultimately deciphered by Alan Turing and his team at Blectchley Park in 1943. As a part of my curiosity in the whole thing, I watched the movie “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. That movie’s title apparently came from a paper he had written of the same name where, among other things, he tries to explain how a “universal machine” (modern day computer) might work.
The story of Enigma, Turing team and England’s task force ULTRA is very interesting and, frankly, inspiring. At the same time, once the movie ended, I recognized Turing was a particular genius in solving puzzles and an unrepentant, practicing homosexual. Whether the movie depicted his life with accuracy or creative license I’ll know soon enough (as I study this in greater detail). However its portrayal of Turing left me in significant turmoil.
One the one hand, it flashed back to scenes from his young school life where he developed a friendship with a classmate, Christopher, while, at the same time, he was horribly bullied by others. Christopher appreciated his person as well as his giftedness; the bullies cared about neither. Turing as a young student was isolated and clearly lonely. I’m a parent and watching those scenes evoked great sympathy with young Alan and indignation towards those ignorant and mean students.
In the same vein, were two other circumstances. First, Turing’s work on the “cryptology bomb” (the machine that would crack Enigma) was misunderstood and devalued by his British government bosses as well as the others on the team. He was mocked, verbally assaulted and ignored by all. Second, in the modern setting of the movie (set in 1951), a policeman called on to investigate a robbery at Turing’s home, instead pursued what he thought was Turing’s association with the Soviets as a spy. That part played out in Turing being arrested not for spying but for soliciting a male prostitute for sex. Whatever his work in the war, it amounted to nothing in sparing him from being charged with indecency and chemically castrated. This left me feeling that significant injustice and blindness to humanity had occurred.
On the other hand, he was a doggedly tenacious genius determined to do what was necessary to crack Enigma. His single-mindedness in that effort, his willingness to go it alone when, early on, his team didn’t understand what he was doing, and his courage to withhold the fact that they had cracked Enigma from the majority of the British military are truly inspiring. Few would’ve been able to be a genius plus tenacious plus courageous. That left me inspired and humbled.
The question is: to which do you give your heart?
In other words, as a Christian, does compassion for him in light of him being bullied and unjustly treated cause us to overlook his sexual immorality and the fact that homosexual behavior is, truly, indecent according to the Bible? Do we rise up like the Queen of England in 2013 and congratulate him on his astounding achievement or do we give measured approval for him because he was actually a criminal according to British law at the time? Do we shake our heads at how truly wickedly the British justice system treated him (chemical castration) or do we agree with the apostle Paul in Romans 1:24-25 that this was God “giving him up” to the dishonoring of his body?
The movie perhaps did what it was supposed to do: it made the murkiness of life, murkier. It left me with the sense that morality is out of reach and it cannot be known. What is right and true and good is not what I think it is, what God says it is.
In the end the movie’s agenda was clear: the text displayed before the credits ran spoke of the 47,000 homosexuals the British government convicted between the late 1880’s and the early 1950’s. Likewise, it displayed the Queen’s posthumous royal pardon for him in 2013. Whatever else might’ve been true about Alan Turing, the movie wanted us to see the injustice of criminalizing homosexuality. It wanted us to see how utterly ridiculous it is to punish a man – a man of great achievement – for whom he chooses as a sexual partner.
But that’s the cultural narrative. It drives us all to imitate its morality and its ethics. It wants us to be convinced that there is no such thing as real morality; it is all situational and practical. It wants our experience of shared humanity (our compassion, our indignation over wickedness, etc.) to always overtake God’s revealed will for us. It wants me to be in turmoil over Alan Turing’s life so that I won’t be so quick to use God’s word to evaluate others’ lives.
No, life isn’t as murky as it seems. When a follower of Christ steps back into the presence of God the Spirit, the right, the beautiful, the awe-inspiring is plain to see in and in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who, by the way, chose His own death as the punishment for those who live in all the ways Alan Turing lived. In this life, then, I must be human and extend my compassion as a member of mankind with all others to all others. Jesus was a model of love and kindness and gentleness that He calls me to imitate. And (and), I will stand holding the plumb line of Scripture and hold out Jesus Christ to others as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). I can not imitate the world in making sin confusing and salvation obscure for that is not the way of love nor the way of humanity.