Forgive me, but it is no longer possible to remain silent.
We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America. In this he was aided by his trusty compass, which always pointed North and South. With those two known, East and West were also known, and Columbus took up an advice of later generations: “Go west, young man, go west.”
Now consider the following situation. Let’s say a mischievous imp, call it “Columbus’s Imp,” stole into his quarters one night and transformed the magnetic pointer of the compass into wood, without changing its appearance. The ship is far at sea, they have no possibility of return. What would Columbus have done?
You guessed it. Columbus doesn’t know which way to go. His ship lies stranded in the ocean amidst bad weather and stormy seas.
The result? Columbus doesn’t discover America.
Because we live in a world of distinctions, and it never helps to blur distinctions until they’re indistinguishable from each other.
Now the same applies to the moral world. If we lose our moral compass, we’re lost at sea, and will surely perish from exposure.
My point: for decades now, we in the West have been inching away from moral clarity into a quicksand of moral ambiguity. It’s called “moral relativism,” and regarded as a pillar of Postmodernism. A nonjudgmental attitude is encouraged, and this is a good thing, as long as we don’t lose sight of our moral North and South.
But this is not what we see happening. Rather, the distinctions between right and wrong, and good and bad (I know there are truly evil people in the world, but I prefer to just say “bad”) are becoming, or even have already become, dangerously blurred. And this is the equivalent of seeking sympathy for the devil.
A Surfeit of Errors
We see this all across our culture, but nowhere more firmly than in movies and TV series. Consider the following series: A serial killer is doing a good thing when he kills other serial killers (Dexter). Another, who is also a cannibal, is almost idolized because of other, supposedly redeeming qualities, like being a good cook (Hannibal). (The Nazis, too, were known as patrons of the arts.) A Mafia boss is pictured as not all bad (The Sopranos). A chemist turned drug dealer is pictured as almost a role model (Breaking Bad). In the series 24, agent Jack Bauer tortures his adversaries, and his arguments for doing so are used to justify later, even more abominable atrocities in real life. (Practically no TV series goes by without the display of some form of torture—they’re trying to accustom us to it.)
I could go on, but you get the idea.
And now, finally, this insidious tendency has found its way into our fairy tales. Disney, which considers itself a company concerned with profits and forgets that it is also a social and educational institution with worldwide social and ethical responsibilities, has succeeded in introducing moral ambiguity into our children’s brains.
Fact: Fairy tales are the first introduction of children into social and ethical norms. They have to keep their story straight and simple. This is where children first learn to separate right from wrong and good from bad. If their minds are confused on this issue, sooner or later this is bound to have terrible repercussions for society.
First we had a makeover of the Evil Queen of “Snow White,” in the film Mirror Mirror (2012) and in the TV series Once Upon a Time (OUAT), where the Evil Queen is depicted as oh-not-such-a-bad-person-after-all, struggling to improve herself.
But let’s not lose our moral compass in the process. These nuances may be appropriate for an adult audience to consider, but the children are watching along with the adults, and since these are ostensibly “fairy tales,” many more children than adults. And they see things in black and white. They need to. Give them gray, and they don’t know how to process it. They cannot yet discern different shades or colors. In a similar vein, you don’t try to teach college-level physics to a child of five, either.
I’m sure you remember Pavlov’s dogs and conditioned reflexes?
Also nowadays, we have college professors posing difficult moral conundrums to students ill-equiped for the task of resolving them. Perhaps there are moral questions that are finally irresolvable, in accordance with Gödel’s Theorem. But the vast majority of moral questions do have solutions.
What the scriptwriters of the revisionist school are forgetting is that if the wrong messages are fed into young, impressionable brains, we are placing our future, even the future of this planet, in jeopardy. Fairy tales are what they are and the way they are, and have been for a very long time, for a lot of important reasons, one of which happens to be social stability. If you swerve from the well-trodden path, if you strike out into uncharted territory, you’re playing with fire. You tamper with the cultural genes of civilization at your (and everyone’s) peril. Here, there really be dragons.
In the meantime, we’ve also learned that the word “God” is banned from Disney movies. And now, as the most recent coup de grace, we have Disney’s movie Maleficent (2014). This is, of course, a prequel for another movie, Sleeping Beauty(1959), again by Disney. But with what a whopping difference!
In Sleeping Beauty, we have a classic fairy tale beautifully retold. The distinction between good and evil is properly upheld. Maleficent, despite her urbane sophistication, is the very personification of evil, finally exploding as an atomic bomb into a fire-breathing dragon.
In Maleficent, we have almost a justification of this evil. It’s an apology for what Maleficent is in Sleeping Beauty. She is cast, not as the villain she is in the original story, but virtually as a hero. As The Film Experience blogger Anne Mariewrote, “It’s the new Disney hero: the villain with the heart of gold.” This is nothing but an attempt to cutify and beautify evil, to put lipstick on an ugly thing.
In a later Disney musical, Into the Woods (2014), (the Witch’s entries and exits are nothing if not dramatic!) we have the sum of it all in the final song:
Nor is this what our religions tell us. Rather, they say: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
Who decides, who makes the rules of ethics? Whoever laid down the laws of nature in the first place. It’s in all the sacred scriptures: “Do as you would be done by.” Just as the laws of nature have consequences, so do the laws of ethics. The difference is that while the laws of nature are demonstrable in the short term, the effects of ethical rules—or their violation—make themselves felt in the long term. That a glass falling on concrete shatters is immediately observable. The effects of alcoholism are not immediately apparent, but no less destructive to the person and society. As the Master observed:
Now opposites come into existence together, in pairs. Negate one, and you negate its opposite, too. Without the South Pole, no North Pole. Without the devil, no evil. But also, no good, either. And since God wants us to be good, not evil, atheism is only a step away.
Is Knowledge/Science Enough?
I've already mentioned that I come from a background of science. Time was when I was infatuated with it. I wanted to share all knowledge with everyone in the world.
Gradually, however, I came to realize that there were more important things in life than knowledge. Instrumental in this realization were also the following facts:
- Archimedes, the mathematical and scientific genius of ancient Greece, was killed during a war.
- Lavoisier, the famous French chemist, was guillotined during a revolution.
- Evariste Galois, a promising young mathematician, was killed in a duel when he was only 21.
Later, however, I became aware of something even more important. In the absence of a moral hand to guide it, science is used to, well, build a better bomb. But the possession of knowledge exponentially increases the capability to harm others. A primitive caveman could slay only a few people using his bow and arrow. A hydrogen bomb can kill millions. Weaponized bird flu, perhaps hundreds of millions. So the more knowledge we have, the more crucial it becomes for everyone to be outfitted with superior morals.
Let us at least agree that five things need to be protected:
I’m not saying that we should go about riding a moral high-horse trumpeting our righteousness, since the Base Self is capable of converting even the most innocent deed into an exercise in self-adulation. I’m just saying that we should simply do what is moral when the occasion presents itself, quietly and without fanfare.
The most fundamental thing is ethical behavior. This is the foundation, the root. Omit this, and your other religious practices won’t help you either, no matter what your religion may be. It’s like a barrel with an inlet and an outlet faucet, and the outlet always runs faster than the inlet. The barrel will never get filled.
And the really interesting thing here is, you don’t have to convert to another religion in order to do this. (Here, I’m also reminded of the Master’s saying: “Now only the Japanese remain in the world who hold on to religion. No matter what they worship. They’re the only ones who possess a religion” (p. 13).) All of us can be more ethical while remaining in our own. The Master elaborated on this as follows: