Posts Tagged ‘rules and morality’

For several years I’ve spent part of many Sunday evenings watching one excellent HBO series or another.  This all started with “The Sopranos,” and proceeded on to include “Carnivale,” “Rome,” “Deadwood,” the superb “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Big Love.”  I’m not sure if the uber-executives at HBO planned it this way or whether it’s just a coincidence, but all these series (most of which I find terrific, by the way and worth viewing on DVD or on demand) have a common thread: characters whose lives exist in a society where there are no rules, or where the rules don’t apply.

In Deadwood, South Dakota (a real lawless town that was born during the Gold Rush), a lot of what you see in the HBO series really occurred.  Unwitting prospectors are lured out to the hills at night and shoved off cliffs, then thrown to the pigs by Chinese immigrants, the lowest of the low in this community.  Whores are brought in to amuse the prospectors and beaten brutally when a saloon owner doesn’t like a glance or an attitude.  The Sheriff has no real power and is left to try to act as a moral presence in a town where swindling, shooting and conniving are everyday activities.  And in “Big Love,” the series now in its final season, modern-day polygamists who have moved into a Sandy, Utah community hoping to advance the principle of plural marriage try to blend into contemporary society, all while threatened by the adherents of a fundamentalist faith who inhabit Juniper Creek, the ‘compound’ outside of city limits — and city laws.

These activities aren’t only the stuff of TV drama.  In the United Kingdom a grandmother bashes a group of would-be robbers to foil their plans for a heist, while in the US a man goes mad, stabbing people on the street and in the subway, and a mother and her toddler son are found, dead in a dumpster. While it’s true that these things have always gone on, it seems to me that over the last year there has been a proliferation of situations in which people, for many reasons, are deciding that the rules don’t apply to them.

It’s true that times are tough, and difficult days can lead to desperate measures.  However I’m hesitant to chalk up such behavior to the economy.  What role do our faith communities, society, our education system, our government, play in this drama?  Are people no longer guided around the expectations of living in a society and a particular culture?  While horrible abuses occurred in Egypt during the recent revolution, I was also  impressed with the public statements, made by ordinary citizens and generals, that seemed informed by their sense of what ‘their God’ told them to do…as if the arc of the moral universe moved within them to help plot their decisions.

More and more, there seem to be too few examples of the moral universe moving in us.  Why else do we decide to try to beat not only the conventional systems set up to exist in society, but our neighbors?  Why does membership in some political groups lead individuals to decide that “the right to bear arms” also means the right to use them – whenever we feel wronged?  The oft-quoted statement attributed to Martin Luther King (but first articulated by Rev. Theodore Parker) states, “The arc of the universe is long – but it bends toward justice.”  The question is: whose justice?  In whose name, for whose benefit?  Sometimes the rules just don’t apply.

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