Friday, November 03, 2006

Good and Evil

I've really been enjoying the new TV series, Heroes, and I was listening to a podcast about the show today. In the most recent installment of this podcast, the speakers discuss their uncertainty as to whether certain characters are good or evil. I quickly wrote them an email explaining that this was a gross oversimplification, not only of the themes of the show (which is more nuanced than most) but of the concepts of good and evil themselves.

Good and evil are not motivations, nor are they goals, and they're certainly not forces that act independently. Rather, they are subjective interpretations of actions and concepts. Racial oppression -- at least in the overt, white-against-black form that is so prominent in our nation's history -- is generally considered to be evil by most of the western world, but this was not always the case. Many of our religious institutions, which claim to be the highest authority on good and evil, used to be among the staunchest supporters of slavery and segregation. Now these groups are advocating similar forms of hate directed at homosexuals, and history will no doubt eventually cast this stance in a similar light.

It's been said that the victors write the history books. This would explain why good always seems to eventually win out over evil; The winning side is not necessarily more righteous, but the conflict would likely continue if the status quo was believed to be evil. It's easy to cast fictional characters as good or evil, but their stories are more realistic (and more interesting) if, like in reality, good and evil cannot be defined in such certain terms without the benefit of hindsight.

1 comment:

Lou said...

I am not familiar with the TV series Heroes, but I can tell you that Good and Evil are "forces that act independently". Good and Evil are real. What Hitler did to millions of innocent people was evil - there's no getting around it. Mother Teresa's life was a shining example of Good.

Lynching slaves has always been evil, regardless of how perceptions have changed over the years.

Which religious institutions are advocating "hate directed at homosexuals"?