'Hacksaw Ridge' Reveals the True Purpose of Religious Freedom

Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge is easily one of the best films of the year (89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), but it's not primarily due to cinematic effects. Perhaps better than any other, the movie portrays the vital struggle for religious freedom, and what a Christian must do with that hard-won victory.

Indeed, Hacksaw Ridge is really two movies — one about fighting for religious freedom, and another about the heroism of Christian faith in the face of hellish adversity. One about achieving the freedom to live out the faith, and one about how to honor that freedom. It tells the heroic tale of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who felt it his duty to serve in World War II, but who refused to take up arms.

Doss — played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman, 2012) — calls himself a "conscientious cooperator" and explains that he wants to serve on the battlefield, but he has a problem with "carrying a gun and taking a human life." His solution? Become a battlefield medic.

From the beginning, Doss struggles to follow his conscience. He earnestly believes he must fight in the war, despite pressure from his father (and later his commanding officer) to stay home and let others fight for him. He also earnestly believes it is wrong to kill, and he refuses to even touch a rifle, no matter how much it costs him. As he tells his wife, "I don't know how I'm gonna live with myself if I don't stay true to what I believe."

His commanding officer does not take kindly to that idea. When Doss refuses to train with a rifle, the squad mocks him. In a disgusting moment, his fellow soldier drags him through the mud, saying, "I don't think this is a matter of religion. I think this is cowardice."

This might remind many conservative Christians today of the common retort from the LGBT movement when Christians voice concerns about gay marriage or transgenderism. That retort could be paraphrased, "I don't think this is a matter of religion. I think this is discrimination." Christians today need to show forth in our lives that there is a crucial difference, and Desmond Doss teaches us how to do so.

Similarly, liberals think conservative Christians oppose abortion, gay marriage, and transgenderism in order to say that they're "holier than thou," to prove some sort of superiority. Doss's fellow soldiers also suspect the private refuses to shoot a rifle for the same reason. Only his later heroism proves them wrong.

Beaten to a pulp, thrown in military prison, and taken before a tribunal, Doss must fight for what he believes in. The Army tries to push him to resign, but Doss refuses. He wants to serve his country and he will not sacrifice his conscience, one way or another. Eventually, the Army acknowledges his right to serve without a weapon. "Private Doss, you are free to run into the hellfire of battle without a single weapon to protect yourself," and so he does.

Next Page: What Doss does with that freedom.