Pondering Morality

This is a sensitive subject for many people.  Differences in perspectives on morality cause division, some minor, and some large.  At the heart of these perspectives is one question: is morality relative or absolute?  This is a topic that affects everything, including my works of fiction.  There are some who believe the same as I do about Jesus, but feel enjoying Fantasy is immoral.  Are they correct?  Is there even a right answer to these questions?

An entire book series could be written discussing in depth why there is morality, what morality is, and if there is an absolute basis for said morality.  Here I simply want to address the question, is morality absolute or not?  In short, my answer is yes.  Morality, like many realities are more nuanced than merely yes or no.  While the idea of moral relativism and absolutism appear incompatible, I argue it depends on the approach one takes.  An absolutist version of either end up with absurd logical conclusions.  Absolute moral relativism would mean that morality is determined by the individual and society.  However, when we study history we agree that the actions of the Nazi’s and Stalin’s Red Army were unquestionably evil.  I am familiar with the argument that there is no true right or wrong, just what we make of it, but I don’t think many truly apply that belief.  Sure, there are moral relativist apologists from the common Facebook user all the way up to professional philosophers.  No rational person would agree that just because it was culturally appropriate to commit mass murder in Nazi occupied territories means it is okay.  In the 21st century few would argue that slavery is evil and a terrible thing that happened not only throughout history, but has remained in various forms throughout the world.  Sometimes slavery has been used as an example of this philosophical position’s truth.  It is true centuries ago slavery was more accepted than it is today, the issue once again was that those that were enslaved were thought of as not entirely human. Ultimately, I find it difficult to get around the conclusion that moral relativism will lead to individuals doing what they please, while not pleasing anyone.  Much more could be written on moral relativism, and within that think tank there is diversity.

On the other side of the spectrum there is absolute morality.  This essentially states that there is a moral code that is universally true for every human being.  I believe this is a little closer to the truth than moral relativism.  Those who disagree with this point of view will mention the differences throughout history in society’s values and morality.  However, there are more similarities across cultures then one might realize.  A common example would be that murder has not been freely allowed in cultures.  Now of course there are cases of cannibalism, genocide, and murder of every kind, but the difference is the victims were not considered people by their oppressors.  Even in Nazi Germany murderers were punished.  Those who adhere to this moral philosophy may cite holy religious texts or scriptures.  What absolute morality fails to take into account by itself is the different sensitives of other people’s consciences.  This looks like tastes in music, books, television, basically any consumable media.  Where some may be deeply disturbed by a film and may deem it to be immoral, others may gain something from it.  Another difference may come in food and drink, where one may see eating meat as wrong, another may see supporting agriculture as wrong.

In the above cases, I feel it is down to the individual to do what is best for them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t overarching moral truths that apply to everyone.  Murder is wrong, but self-defense is typically seen as fair and at minimum a less punishable act.  Within certain cultures people have been deemed less-than-human but murder remains illegal.  Some believe enjoying media with magic in it is wrong, while others do not.  This is an example of where morality is somewhat relative, while there are things should all agree on are wrong like murder, thievery, and slavery.

Character Actions Are Not an Endorsement of Behavior

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Characters are meant to be living entities in and of themselves.  They can act in ways both better and worse than the writer crafting their stories.

A writer may not be for thievery but may write about a thief, and the same can be said about any sort of immoral or deviant behavior.  The behavior of characters does not necessarily reflect the author’s own morality.  We live in a world where there are evil, careless, and self-centered people, and people simply have bad days and do things they regret.

My books are generally “clean” and family oriented because that is my target audience.  I also don’t believe in having over the top content for the sake of shock and awe.  With that said, I do see adding contented for the sake of being true to the character that might be unsavory.

As a writer and an artist, I don’t believe in censorship and stand firm that the author should be true to the character’s personality.  That may even include things that make the author or audience uncomfortable.  That said, the creator should also place some boundaries, there are certain things that are best left out of entertainment.  If there is a gory death, it is best to left it to the imagination instead, or implying it rather than directly giving an overly detailed description.  I have read scenes in books or movie descriptions out of curiosity that were stomach churning, the author should limit him or herself because there are certain things that are unnecessary.

Now, with that painfully obvious disclaimer out of the way, author’s including immoral behavior in a story doesn’t reflect the writer’s personal beliefs, at least not in a well-crafted storyline. Within the context of being sensitive to our audience, a writer is obligated to be true to the character.

Would you Recognize Evil? (What is Evil Pt. 2)


I discussed here evil and what it is and how villains in both fiction and reality see themselves as good. I briefly discussed this in that post, but feel that it needs to be further explored, would we recognize evil even if we saw it? Can a culture become so warped that it no longer knows evil when it infects it? History confirms without a shadow of doubt that it is very possible, look no further than Third Reich, or Russia during Stalin’s rule.

Those are just two small examples of long history when humanity has adopted a sort of reverse morality. This is a lesson to all of us, that we must be diligent. It doesn’t take much for evil to become popular and acceptable. Evil isn’t always a megalomaniac, it is often subtle, with seemingly harmless ideas. The difficulty of evil is that it doesn’t always look or feel evil or destructive. It seeps in and slowly poisons everything around it.

Fiction of all kinds address this very issue, and it should serve as a metaphor for what could happen in the real world. Real human history also shows us what happens when we allow toxic ideas to spread and infect until they are normal and they evolve into terrible atrocities. Other than being diligent ourselves how can we stand in the way of evil? The greatest way is to measure it against truth and to not be silent.

Often, we hear “don’t preach at me,” or “don’t lecture me,” when we share our perspectives on morality. Obviously, there is a way to share our thoughts in a way that is more receptive to someone else, but sometimes people simply don’t want to hear differing perspectives. Some folks are so married to their ideology that they cannot even listen to other views. This sort of attitude is never constructive for anyone and does nothing to help society. The thing is, we need to diligently keep an eye out for evil seeping into our lives and culture. Sometimes we need to be “preached” or “lectured” at. Surely no one would deny those saluting Hitler needed it. We see it in both fiction and history, an evil idea becomes popular and those who need to hear truth reject it out of pride and ultimately people suffer. Let us leave this sort of pride in fiction where it belongs.