Truth, Justice and the American Way
by Mark Liberator (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) [Updated January 23rd, 2005]
More than three hundred years before Christ, philosophers were hammering out great works on virtue. We may take the view that this wealth of information – a result of efforts in this direction over such a long span of time – is plentiful enough for us to believe we are beating a dead horse. Yet, many societal indicators may be telling us that our approaches to ethics, morality and human decency are in need of fundamental change.
In this article, we will examine the history of virtue and the interplay between virtue and truth. We will look at ancient myths and compare them to current stories. It will become apparent that a paradigm shift is rapidly approaching and suggestions for change will be provided as we insist that fantasy remain separate from reality.
“Greek Mythology was never squeamish about sexuality. It openly dealt with Zeus helping himself to beautiful women, which explained his many mortal sons. There was also no shortage of female leadership. For instance, Athena is the goddess of battle prowess and wisdom.”
Aristotle (384 to 323 BC) built a comprehensive structure for handling ethics. He explored the differences between good and bad, human instinct, morality of habits, and what it means to be happy. Aristotle placed ‘spheres’ of human action or feeling on one end of a table and indicated the pitfalls of their excesses and deficiencies along with the merits of achieving delicate balances.
His work must have influenced Spinoza because they both felt the need to plant their feet firmly on basic truths and then scaffold from there. Aristotle did acknowledge that these ventures are far less than perfect sciences but the slant in that direction is obvious. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s work utilized the backdrop of Greek Mythology. The significance of this attachment will be examined to a greater depth later on in this article.
Truth and Virtue
The broad blanket of truth is not a virtue because it is not a character trait we can obtain. However, we can act honestly and insist on justice. These behaviors definitely do point back at the larger concept of truth and they certainly are virtues.
Despite this obvious connection, truth gets a bad wrap in certain religious circles. Dogmatism maintains that truth is personally unattainable due to our own inferior ability to perceive and understand reality. Yet these proponents of dogmatic tradition claim somehow that a few guys thousands of years ago had eye-opening revelations, which are used as a basis for many denominations of Christianity today.
It is evident religion is often utilized to tell followers that some people are more attune to truth and virtue than others, which is absolutely ridiculous.
Without completely knocking religion, allegories tell us a much different story. First of all, stories are key components of every religion because these stories attempt to point us to virtues like honesty, compassion and duty. Spirituality – the heart of religion most organizations have forgotten – tells us that these virtues are worthy of pursuit.
Allegories are imbedded within religions because they entertain us while shedding light on the difficulties of pursuing virtues. In fact, there are some ancient allegories that are worth revisiting and are often copied by modern stories.
Greek Mythology consists of a wellspring of rich, meaningful and entertaining stories. Hercules, after killing his own wife and children is sentenced to perform twelve labors for his cousin Eurystheus. Sisyphus had the duty of pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain in Tartarus. Odysseus endured twenty years at sea. Perseus fought the medusa.
These stories exist as a map to guide us onto roads that lead to courage, persistence, humility, justice, honor, respect and the full landscape of virtue. The ancient Greeks knew how to capture attention with fiction while providing an interesting framework for selling virtue.
What Stories Do We Have Today?
In comparison to the ancient myths, Jewish Mythology is riddled with holes and as a result does not allow us to relate to it with ease. Greek Mythology was never squeamish about sexuality. It openly dealt with Zeus helping himself to beautiful women, which explained his many mortal sons. There was also no shortage of female leadership. For instance, Athena is the goddess of battle prowess and wisdom.
The effects of Jewish Mythology still have a chokehold on our modern society and it blurs the pursuit toward virtue. Woman cannot attain positions of leadership regardless of the numerous campaigns that are mounted against the church’s sexist position. The church insists that women cannot act as conduits to virtue and must remain as second-class members of society. The church’s position sends a message that subdivides our society when instead its role should be to unite our society.
It is clear that these outdated religious views, including sacrificing one’s child in the name of God, make the job of pursuing virtue more difficult than it needs to be. The ancient myths are a far better vehicle. This may explain why the television show Hercules and its spin-off Xena [see Hercules and Xena] have been such a success in the 1990s.
A Paradigm Shift Awaits
“The most important lesson that must be conveyed is the ability to separate fiction from non-fiction. Allowing our youth to believe that ancient stories are somehow factual runs in opposition to the physical world they encounter on a daily basis and therefore clutters their minds with confusion. The only purpose that literalism serves is enable fantasy to blur with reality.”
Is it possible that current religious tales do not help us relate to the human experience and provide little assistance helping us cope with modern problems? The inability for our youth to find stories that capture their attention while providing lessons of virtue could very well explain the problems with society.
Teens attacking and killing their teachers, young mothers throwing their babies as if their young were trash, violence on the streets (coined roadrage) and a high divorce rate are indicators that lessons of virtue are no longer reaching members of society.
The Biblical story about Job, even though the allegory is a powerful one, has outlived its usefulness. It is hard for readers today to gain meaning from the actions of Moses when God directed him to stone a man for collecting firewood on the Sabbath. The logistical impossibility of Noah being able to create an ark large enough to hold pairs of animals and then him filling such an ark is a story that blatantly promotes ignorance.
Of course, instead of depending upon Jewish Mythology for insight into virtue we can leave the storytelling to Hollywood. The silver screen has been blessed with brilliant masterpieces that grapple with various virtues but these classics are few and far between. In fact, Hollywood churns out a number of films that often undermine the pursuit of virtue.
Without debate, it can be shown that a pandemic of non-virtue exists today. President Clinton showed us his character flaws when he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Right-to-lifers who routinely bomb abortion clinics tell us about their contradictory efforts to promote their belief systems. The heavy use of drugs for purposes of escapism tells us about the mindset of these consumers. An endless parade of stories indicates that our current approach to virtue is not working.
What Are Our Options?
Whatever belief system we adopt and whenever we encounter a tale or a proposition, we must insist they adhere to reason. If the belief system is fully rooted in myth, then the myth must be taken one step further so that the full flavor of the story is appreciated. Without demanding a thoughtful structure to serve as a backdrop for these stories, the meaning is lost and the pursuit toward virtue is made impossible.
Stories such as Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, Adam and Eve, and others need to be presented as the tales they are. They must be compared with one another and also viewed alongside older myths. Until these stories are approached in this manner, they will continue to go under-appreciated and provide little assistance to us as we travel the twisting paths to virtue.
The stories need not be forgotten but they must be handled with care to maximize their intended benefit. When a flaming bush speak to a leading character in a story, we must not be tempted to think literally. As seas become parted, dragons killed, witches reduced to puddles and water turned into wine, we must realize that the author has a purpose for such drama.
Fantasy Separate from Reality
The most important lesson that must be conveyed is the ability to separate fiction from non-fiction. Allowing our youth to believe that ancient stories are somehow factual runs in opposition to the physical world they encounter on a daily basis and therefore clutters their minds with confusion. The only purpose that literalism serves is enable fantasy to blur with reality.
It is within the realm of possibility that once fantasy and reality are sufficiently blurred, our youths will then entertain graphic video games, Hollywood films, and Biblical violence, allowing them to swallow their worldviews and altogether lose the path to virtue.
We can allow programs like The Jerry Springer Show to spur us away from the sea of self-perpetuating ignorance or we can drown ourselves within it. The choice is our own. Even Jerry Springer tries to provide an iota of concern at the conclusion of his show. Proportionally speaking, it is too little too late to leave even a residue of substance to his circus act.
This is exactly what is happening to modern society: a lack of general respect combined with a depreciated emphasis (or maybe no concern) for that which is greater than the self.Resources
James Harvey Stout : Mythology Google Directory: Society > Philosophy > Ethics > Virtue Theory Google Directory: Society > Philosophy > Philosophers > Spinoza, Baruch Perseus Project (Tufts University): The Labors of Hercules Perseus Project (Tufts University) : The Gorgon Medusa The Internet Classics Archive : Odyseus' Journey The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology : Sisyphus' Story Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Aristotle University of Maryland: Fairy Tales
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