Saturday, November 03, 2018

A consequence of atheism: this is not a moral universe

People sometimes choose to do what feels good to them to do regardless of how it affects other people. And unless there is an afterlife where these things get, as it were, settled up, there is a reasonable chance that that person might be happier overall doing what most of us would consider to be very bad. Monotheistic religious traditions, and in some ways karmic (Eastern) traditions provide an influential way of sustaining the belief that the universe is a moral place, that in the final analysis right actions, and in particular right character, will ultimately get the best results. If you abandon those traditions, you do give that up, although some people don't fully realize it. The atheist filmmaker Woody Allen struggles with the whole issue of coming to terms with this in his film Crimes and Misdemeanors. There, an opthalmologist has an affair, and also engages in some shady financial dealings, but is still a respected citizen. He decides he won't be able to keep his affair from his wife, and she response by threatening to expose the affair to his wife and also expose his financial dealings. His brother, a mobster, offers to "solve" his problem by killing his mistress. The opthalmologist agrees, and the deed is done. But after that is worries about what he has done and is thinking of confessing. But, in the end, he chooses not to confess, and overcomes any feeling of guilt and remorse he might have had for having the woman killed. He ends up being OK with the whole thing and ends up being happy. We as the audience want there to be some kind of retribution on this guy, but if this life is all there is, that isn't going to happen, and this consequence is just part of what you have to put up with if you say there's no God and no afterlife. 

14 comments:

Starhopper said...

I well remember the first time I ever saw Crimes and Misdemeanors and was horrified by the ending. For a long time, I hated the movie because of that, but eventually I came to see it as a truly faithful depiction of an atheistic universe. The fact that I found it so totally appalling convinced me that such a universe could not possibly exist. If this was "reality", then we ought to be able to accept it. The only alternative would be that the human race was congenitally insane (for not being able to accept objective reality). And if that were indeed the case, then what is the point of all these "rational" discussions? After all, we're insane. In an atheist universe, we can either never discover the truth, or we cannot be reconciled with it.

Woody Allen is one of a very small number of atheistic artists who have contributed to "the canon" of Great Art. Others on this list would be novelists H.G. Wells and Ayn Rand, and architect Alexey Shchusev.

bmiller said...

Woody Allen is a pervert isn't he?

Hal said...

Woody Allen is a pervert isn’t he?

No.

Crimes and Misdeamoners along with Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo are my three favorite Woody Allen movies. He is a great filmmaker.

Legion of Logic said...

Woody Allen is a pervert isn't he?

Either had affairs with the children of his girlfriend or was accused by them of sexual assault. That does seem a bit beyond normal boundaries, doesn't it?

Not to mention marrying his son's adoptive sister...

David Brightly said...

Yes, but does the title follow from the piece? We all agree that there is a moral dimension to human life, even if we disagree about the possibility of ultimate justice. If the moral dimension arises from within the universe's own resources then it's reasonable to say that this is a moral universe, at least from our point of view within it. On the other hand, if the moral dimension is imposed from outside...

Hal said...

Either had affairs with the children of his girlfriend or was accused by them of sexual assault. That does seem a bit beyond normal boundaries, doesn't it?

Being a pedophile is a perversion. Being accused of sexual assault is not.

Unfortunate for him that he got tangled up with Mia Farrow. At least one good thing came out of that mess: his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn.

Hal said...

David,
Agree with you about the moral nature of humans. I see the universe itself as being amoral. Except, of course, for the possibility of other rational beings existing outside of our solar system.

Legion of Logic said...

Being accused of sexual assault is not.

Depends on who you are.

bmiller said...

Everything after Bananas was downhill.

Hugo Pelland said...

"We as the audience want there to be some kind of retribution on this guy, but if this life is all there is, that isn't going to happen, and this consequence is just part of what you have to put up with if you say there's no God and no afterlife."

Yep, that is probably the case; reality isn't what we want it to be, it is whatever it is, regardless of our opinions. It's up to us to try to make it better.

One way is by telling people stories about how there's an invisible person always watching them. Another way is to tell them that we're better off if we all try to do what's best, regardless of who is watching. Neither approach will be perfect, but one seems closer to the truth than the other.

David Brightly said...

I don't remember the film very well. Can anyone recall whether Judah asks himself the Kantian question, What if I were to become an encumbrance to someone else?, and if so, how he deals with that? If not, for all my fondness for Allen's films, I'd have to mark this one down. It wouldn't be an accurate picture.

Hal said...

David,
It wouldn't be an accurate picture.

I find that remark to be rather ironic given that one of the underlying themes in this film is that films are not accurate. :-)

David Brightly said...

Hi Hal. I'm afraid I remember nothing of the half of the plot involving the Woody Allen character. Maybe I'll watch it again. A nice self-referential touch.

Hal said...

David,
It is explcitly mentioned near the end of the movie when the Woody Allen character is talking to Judah.

Also, there are two films within this film: the documentaries that the Woody Allen character is putting together: one of a philosopher, the other of his brother-in-law. It is interesting to compare the 'reality' of those two films with the 'reality' being presented in the film they are part of. For example, what happens to the philosopher in the film compared to how he is presented in the documentary.

And now I am recalling several scenes in which the characters go to the movies and the discussion they have in the theater about films.

Think I am going to have to rewatch it this weekend to refresh my memory on this.

To be honest I hadn't realized any of this before. Your remark is what triggered it.