Tag Archives: morality

Superman’s Actions Speak Louder Than His Words

Recommending All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Jace Lington points out the odd contrast between the Man of Steel’s words and his actions. He writes,

At one point in the story, Superman faces two Kryptonian astronauts who arrive on Earth and begin to subjugate humanity. They mock Superman for serving the “barbaric” humans and for refusing to establish Kryptonian dominance. They say his actions betray his homeland. Superman responds, “What right do I have to impose my values on anyone?”

He asks what right he has, but then when the bad guys come, he shuts them down. Does he not doubt his right to smack around bad guys, or are his actions merely emotional and therefore unaccountable? No, his actions demonstrate that he believes there is a proper time for standing up for what is right, or to put it another way, to impose your values on others.

It’s remarkable moral relativism has any traction at all, because no matter how you attempt to justify it, it falls apart. Moral relativism is not a moral framework. It only poses as one, because its fundamental assertion is that morality does not exist. Every moral question is defined as personal preference, no more significant than any other preference. If I say I prefer blue shirts, will you argue that I should choose white shirts instead? Of course not. And yet relativists want us to believe that a college student who feels intense guilt for hooking up with someone the previous night should feel no more guilty than if she had begun to second guess her choice of dessert.

Regret sleeping with someone? Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But wait, isn’t that imposing your values on someone? If someone feels guilty for casual sex or for choosing apple pie over chocolate cake, isn’t that their choice? How could a relativist suggest anyone’s morality is misinformed on any point?

And there you have the theory’s incoherence. Even common sense questions about morality cannot be asked because relativism’s only criteria is what appeals to you? Do you prefer cookies to crackers? Achievement to dependency? Abuse to love? Whatever.

But as the writers of Superman appear to know instinctively, when you see evil, you must fight it, especially if you’re a super. You must impose your understanding of goodness on those who choose evil, even if you couldn’t support that understanding with words on the previous page. Life actually is precious; justice is a real thing.

Superman used to know such things.

Thinking online…

I dislike inconsistency, especially in myself. It occurred to me that I have embraced two apparently inconsistent philosophical positions.

So I gave the matter some thought. Here’s the problem, and my synthesis.

The other day I linked to what I consider an outstanding article by historian Tom Holland. In it he explains how he gradually came to realize, though his research, that modern ideas of cultural relativism are false. It’s not true that all societies are pretty much the same. The Christian West espouses (though often fails to practice) the highest level of morality we know of, superior in every way to civilizations of the past that scholars love to praise. The Greeks and the Romans, for instance, from whom Enlightenment thinkers thought they derived their ideas, knew nothing of human equality and never contemplated ending slavery. It’s only the Christian West that has even striven for these things.

That’s one position I embrace.

But I also embrace what C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Abolition of Man, calls “the Tao.” The Tao (as Lewis used it here) is a universal set of moral precepts that appear to be inborn. They are reiterated in cultures all over the world, across racial divisions and epochs of time alike. “Don’t steal.” “Don’t murder.” “Keep your promises.” “Honor your parents.”

Does that contradict the Western exceptionalism I praise in Mr. Holland’s article? Continue reading Thinking online…

“Why I was wrong about Christianity”

One of the best things I’ve read in some time, from Tom Holland in NewStatesman:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.

Read it all here.

The Story We Tell Ourselves

Derek Rishmawy describes an idea he teaches young men and women who think they’ll ditch their biblical morality for a season in order to have fun.

I always tell my students they need to be aware of the myths and stories they tell themselves about reality, because the story you think you’re in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:

I’ve been a good kid in high school. I’ve done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn’t mess around too much or anything. Now, though, I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The “college experience” is calling, and I can’t be expected to go and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I’ll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You’ll see.

Where else in real life does this exist? Would they tell the Lord to his face that they’ll mock him with their actions for a time and then come back? This is easily the beginning of a story Old Scratch often tells. It begins with the suggestion that morality doesn’t matter and can be left aside for a time and builds to the declaration that Jesus never cared about you because if he did, you wouldn’t be in this immoral mess.