Gifted without a Moral Sense

“And of course all that [the Superman] is is a gifted man without a moral sense.”

“That’s all. I think the worst thing to contemplate is this—it’s all happened before, how soon will it happen again? Fifty years after Waterloo Napoleon was as much a hero to English school children as Wellington. How do we know our grandchildren won’t idolize Von Hindenburg the same way?”

“What brings it about?”

“Time, …, and the historian. If we could only learn to look on evil as evil, whether it’s clothed in filth or monotony or magnificence.”

This Side of Paradise pp. 111–112

First, it is ironic that Amory agrees with Alec’s statement about the Superman being a gifted man without a moral sense. That’s Amory. If he could only learn to look on evil as evil even if it’s clothed from Amory’s own wardrobe. 

But Amory is right: we need a moral vision that is not distorted by filth or monotony or magnificence. 

Sometimes we are moved to pity by filth—and it can be proper to be so moved. But we must learn to distinguish between filth that is self-inflicted and filth that has an outside cause for that should determine how we engage with it. 

We can be moved to boredom—and acceptance—by the monotony of the message, worn down into accepting evil because we finally begin tapping our toes to the rhythm that won’t leave our heads. 

And finally: magnificence. That may be the allure of fashion or money or just an I’m-on-your-side-against-that-evil rhetoric. Evil doesn’t mind attacking a different evil if it can gain followers. How duped we can be—even when the evil is right out in the open—by someone who’s “on our side” or who “is one of us” or who “will stand up against the other evil.” I hope that, especially in the church, we can be more self-aware than Amory. 

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