Saturday, July 19, 2008

Something Fundamental Here

Last night, for the first time, I let my kids (ages eight, six and nearly four) watch Star Wars. They were wide-eyed and full of questions, but because of the SW computer game they have, they stayed through the entire show. Their reactions were pretty much the same to the movie: First, they want to watch the others now, and, second, they identified with the good characters over the bad. I'm glad of that.

"I liked the part where the princess was saved," says Isaac, our three-year-old. "But I didn't like the part where Ben Kenobi died."

"It was kind of fun and it didn't give me bad dreams," reports Lexie, our six-year-old. "Darth Vader is so mean. I didn't like him in the movie. But Ben Kenobi could still talk, because he was a spirit."

Then I tune in to CNN and watch their little iReporters babble on about the new Batman movie, and most of them are all dressed up in makeup to make them look like the Joker, the bad guy. Too many people now identify with the bad guys in the movies, or at least those people who may be bad or, at best, morally ambiguous or morally opportunistic, or, at worst, entertaining, without factoring their goodness or badness into the equation at all. There's something terribly wrong in all that. Part of it, I think, comes from the expectation now that there are no good guys, given that many of the real "good guys" of today are just as ambiguous and opportunistic as the bad guys. Part of it, also, I believe, comes from the realm of political correctness, where we're not allowed to judge on the basis of good and bad any more, but must instead treat badness and goodness on equal footing. On both arguments, I tend to think they're hooey. Good, said C.S. Lewis, is becoming better, and evil is becoming worse. The time for fence-sitting, he added, is at an end. I agree with that. We can't use the argument that good is hard to find in order to embrace the ambiguity of a neutral position, because the neutral ground between good and evil -- and they both exist, my friends, they both exist -- resembles the no-man land between World War I trenches.

I believe there are good guys today. If you can't find them, you're not looking hard enough. You're probably not doing enough good yourself, in fact.

I tend to read a lot of books that focus on that old-fashioned view of good versus evil. Just this week I finished reading Fighting Auschwitz, by Jozef Garlinski, which tells of the struggle between good and evil in the German death camp. The lines between good and evil here are clearly drawn. What is telling is that these prisoners, from many nationalities and political stripes that typically regarded each other as good and evil, put those differences aside as they battled something supernally evil. They came to realize that the politically correct divisions that kept them apart before the war were superficial, in the face of pure, raw evil, which did not care about political correctness and just wanted to proceed with the evils of torture and extermination.

Then there's Guantanamo Bay. Probably not as evil as Auschwitz, but certainly too far along the scale of evil than I'd like to think the United States would sink. But thus it is.

And do we have a presidential candidate who is ready to put aside political considerations and call evil evil and good good? I don't know that we do? McCain, on things military, probably not. Obama, he keeps falling into that ambiguous camp. So I'm not sure we can look with a perfect brightness of hope to them. What can we do? Certainly, more than write a blog entry.

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