Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hire the Morally Handicapped

A long time ago, as a student at a Baptist college, I was on a Christian service assignment that took me to a hotbed of liberalism, homosexuality, and recreational drug commerce. There I saw a bumper sticker, "Hire the Morally Handicapped," and I've been chuckling about it ever since.

In fact, every time I drive up to a store and see all the empty parking spaces reserved for the handicapped, I remind myself that I can say I am morally handicapped after all...

Of course, you can't say someone is good or evil in our society. It's double-plus-ungood. And I suppose that saying one is morally handicapped is single-plus-ungood, too. So, to be politically correct, let's just say that those Republicans (if you're a Democrat) or those Democrats (if you're a Republican) or those Republicans and Democrats (if you're a Whig like me), are neither evil nor morally handicapped, but differently ethic-ed.

Though I started out joking about being differently ethic-ed, the term has explanatory power. Though moralists have had to go underground in Hollywood (unless it's attacking Christian hypocrisy), you can find moralists alive and well in Bollywood. And I'm cool with this, because I like a moral message in the stories I consume.

I've mentioned before that watching Bollywood and paying attention to its morality is illuminating. For instance, when a bad guy kills the good guy's mother in the 2nd reel of a movie, it is obligatory for the good guy to exact an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth vengeance in the 3rd reel of that movie. Contrast this with the American pattern of killing the antagonist just as dead, but after s/he/it goes for its gun leaving the hero No Choice.

Mindful of this I watched a snippet of a Shahrukh Khan movie. It didn't have subtitles, but it was very interesting. It is called Pardes. So, I looked it up on Wikipedia for an explanation of what I'd just seen.

(By the way, if you ever see a Shahrukh Khan movie and he's all bloody in the climatic scene, it's likely a romantic comedy.)

In Pardes, we see a conflict between Indian and American morality. The presumption in Pardes is that America is morally corrupt and it has no problems with smoking, drinking, or sexual infidelity. And that Indian morality is much better.

This isn't quite fair. Unless you're President Clinton, Americans think that adultery and sexual infidelity is morally wrong.

If you're a good Baptist who doesn't drink, smoke, or chew, nor go with girls that do, we think these things are as moralistic as Indians. Nevertheless, many good Baptists do not live up to these moral aspirations. (BTW I hear there are more Baptists in India than anywhere outside the US and Britain.)

The antagonist of this film is morally handicapped in both the Indian and the Baptist sense, while the heroic Shahrukh Khan works to protect the antagonist's reputation at great cost to his own reputation. And his own happiness, because he hides the antagonist's evil from his love interest who happens to be engaged to the antagonist.

As you'd expect of Bollywood, the source of conflict is family honor: it requires the girl to marry an obviously unsuitable fellow.

Ultimately, the antagonist's father relents, acknowledges Shahrukh Khan's virtue, and grants a happily ever after to everyone save the lothario. The Moral Of The Story is clear: Indian Morals are better than American Morals, as seen by Shahrukh Khan's nobility versus the Americanized antagonist's vice.

I was nodding and going along with this line of thinking until I tripped over this little bit of the wiki plot summary:

"Ironically, it also highlights one way in which Western culture can be viewed as more just and compassionate than Indian culture, since a Western bride can break off an unsuitable engagement without risking death at the hands of outraged family members."

Oh.

That.

Good point.

This shows us something important about moralizing. It's easy to be blinded by the customary, and traditional to that which is obviously very wrong. The Savior's warnings about motes and beams in eyes come to mind as do his woes upon those who idolize tradition.

I'm not suggesting that your storytelling refrain from moralizing or from espousing a moral position or condemning wrongdoing when you see it. However, when you do, maintain the humility to recognize your own moral shortcomings.

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