Superheroes and Moral Relativism
By Joshua Elder
This week Joshua Elder makes the case against moral relativism and for Truth, Justice and the American Way.
I have always wanted to be a superhero. One of my earliest memories is of running around in a red cape my mother sewed for me - jumping off the furniture and pretending I could fly. I was drawn to the black and white morality that the superhero represented: a world where there was a right and wrong and the distinction between the two was not hard to make.
This was an acceptable worldview for a child, but not for a man with a $120,000 education from Northwestern University. If I have learned anything from that institution, it is that there is no good and there is no evil. They are concepts far too limited in their scope, and they fail to take into account the complexities of the world in which we live. They are primitive labels designed for and by the simple-minded.
That is what I was supposed to learn, but I still put more stock in the lessons taught to me by Professor Clark Kent. In his world, the tenets of moral relativism do not hold sway. In his world, evil is very real, and it cannot be bargained with nor can it be appeased. In his world, evil must be confronted by the righteous if it is ever to be defeated. In that respect, Superman’s world is no different from our own. We were brutally reminded of the existence of evil on September 11 when a group of 19 fanatics killed thousands of innocent people. And for what? What “root cause” could possibly justify such an act? What word but evil could possibly describe such monsters?
Yet when President Bush declared that: “Ours is a war against terrorism and evil,” and that the United States must “rid the world of the evildoers,” he was mocked and reviled by the intelligentsia both at home and abroad. Just another example of American moral "simplisme," as French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine put it. Perhaps those words would have more impact if Vedrine did not represent a nation that bent over backwards to appease the Third Reich to the point of rounding up French Jews to be shipped to German concentration camps.
In fact, the French have always been more “sophisticated” than we Americans when it comes to questions of good and evil. Perhaps that is why they have never truly embraced the superhero. Only in America could people be optimistic enough to believe that if a man were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or bend steel in his bare hands that he would use that power unselfishly for the betterment of mankind. Only in America would the mightiest military in history be deployed for purely humanitarian missions in places like Bosnia and Somalia. Only in America is there a genuine national commitment to the axiom that inspired Spider-Man to first strap on his web-shooters: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Not that America is without its faults or failings, but our nation’s history is one of constant struggle to overcome them. It is little wonder then that we Americans embrace the superhero so wholeheartedly. We earnestly believe that Truth, Justice and the American Way are ideals worth fighting for.
I wonder if mom still has that cape lying around somewhere...