The snares of relevance and desperation, the topic of last week’s post, naturally lead into a specific form of pandering, a postmodern approach to relevance: moral ambiguity. With the cultural rise of relativism and pluralism, moral ambiguity and complexity seems to be the only currency accepted in the secular exchange of ideas. If one wishes to have a voice, one must speak with the pronged tongue of relativism.
Silence, an excellent film, amply demonstrates this. In it, Martin Scorsese delivers an acute meditation on faith and religion and the morality of proselytizing, and he presents, in many ways, a balanced case for and against piety. When the ending credits roll, any viewer of Silence will be left to wrestle with their own ideas concerning religion. They are not given an answer, spoon-fed a solution. They must arrive at their own resolution—and for this, Scorsese was celebrated.
The 2015 crime thriller Sicario also demonstrates the modern reliance on moral ambiguity. Without revealing too much, over the course of two hours, Sicario effectively lures its audience in with a “traditional good,” something most agree to be righteous, and by the end has led us to doubt the security we felt in that good—something also seen in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. We’re left unsure as to who, if anyone, is right.
Religion & Story has hosted more than a few blog posts on something that is not generally wrong—something I may, at times, even praise—yet that I think is dangerous or overrated or in some way deserving of criticism. This is how I’ve written on Libertarianism, novelty, logic, beauty, and relevance. In each, there’s something valuable, no doubt, but there is, in each, something to be wary of.
This is the case with moral ambiguity (more or less ironically)—in it there is both something to be coveted and something to be shunned.
Of course there are benefits to ambiguity. The rise of postmodernity is rooted in the undeniable truth that knowledge is elusive and absolute knowledge is unobtainable, so any claim to moral certainty is instinctually rejected. In addition, multi-valence promotes tolerance and humility, and it fosters an attitude of openness to new wisdom. Any intellectual knows this.
But any Christian knows that morality is revealed. In fact, the original title for this post was “Christianity: The Complete Opposite of Moral Ambiguity.” It is the historic confession of the faith, that though we are limited, we can be certain in the revelation of Christ. The Bishop Barron has an excellent discussion of this certainty and the errs of ambiguity; in it he explains that Christians have a worthwhile message to share, one that should not be watered down by vacillation and privatization. Christians have a bold moral standard in the god-man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. And in him, there is no ambiguity. There is two-in-one, but it is clear and it is pure and it is righteous.