I love going to the movies, even though it is no easy matter these days to find at the local multiplex thoughtful compositions that engage the Christian mind. I am not even asking for a screenplay free of gratuitous gore and silly, vulgar language. I am just seeking a film that actually presents its audience with one or two challenging ideas.

Not long ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a film in director Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, which was inspired by Sylvia Nasar's award-winning biography of the mathematician John Nash. Although by no means an explicitly Christian story—or even, in conventional terms, a religious one—the film's narrative provides a vehicle for elucidating important Christian principles.

John Nash, as millions of people now know, was a brilliant graduate student at Princeton back in the 1940s, when, among other accomplishments, he invented an analytical tool now known as the "Nash equilibrium." This discovery, for which Nash received the Nobel Prize in 1994, turned out to be one of the foundations of modern game theory, with application to everything from arms control talks to pricing goods in a competitive market.

It is also consonant with profoundly Christian ideals.

Here's why: the Nash equilibrium posits that there are circumstances in which we are better off if we settle for something other than that which we most desire. This may be counterintuitive, but the mathematical proof (which is available for a general audience in William Poundstone's excellent book, Prisoner's Dilemma) is quite elegant. Indeed, the implication of the Nash equilibrium is that sometimes the entire community is better off when we choose not to pursue that which we want most desperately.

Isn't there a Christian parallel ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
Previous Civil Reactions Columns:

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.