I recently watched “The Amazing Spider-Man.” This prompted me to think about the host of superhero and good-evil fantasy movies that have been made in recent decades. It seems that these superhero movies (rather than religion) are now the public forum for a cultural dialogue on what it means to be truly good, to seek to serve truth and goodness in our world. For me, it is a sign of hope that humanity hasn’t given up on the desire for these foundational principles. These movies struggle with what it means to be “evil” and most illustrate that what makes a person evil is disordered motives or false assumptions – serving an illusory good or incomplete truth. NO person seeks evil; every person wants to believe that what they seek is good. Most of these movies make the case that persons are not inherently good or evil but choose either path through the decisions they make. This reminded me of JPII’s “drama of the human person” – that this world is the stage on which our own final end will be determined. Will we seek to serve the good and the true? Or will we serve the illusory ideal, that which is convenient, popular or economical? Seeking the truth and good is often not sensible or economical, and mostly unpopular. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
– St. Maximilian Kolbe in the last issue of The Knight before he was arrested by the Nazis
Every day we wake, we enter the arena and the drama unfolds through the choices we make. But the battle, rather than being solely outside the self, is primarily within. The person we become is slowly determined. We cannot be satisfied with just good intentions or a partial understanding of truth. It is apathy and misguided optimism about a partial good that yielded the destructive ideologies of the 20th century. I see these same mistakes being made today in the full-tilt cultural shift occurring in America. Many want to be superheroes, and believe they are achieving this through the embrace of partial goodness. But anything less than good is not good at all.
The importance of grasping the full implications of human decision is why it is so important to ground oneself in tradition (which means the body of thinking passed down through the generations) when making decisions of such great import. No one person possesses full knowledge of the truth. But through the body of knowledge refined over time by the mistakes and successes of human experience, we can have a fuller sense of what the outcome of specific decisions will be. Tradition also supplies the tools that help one “do battle” within the soul – exposing the weaknesses and patterns within that allow one to be satisfied with partial truth.
Yet how can the value of tradition be discovered by a culture hell-bent on progress – even when that progress is attained at the expense of humanity itself through the gradual diminishment of human experience? The very good we seek to promote is being lost gradually by embracing partial truths about the good. We continue to ignore the truth about the human person – what actually BUILDS UP humanity: the common good, community relationships, respecting the dignity of the human person with the foundational respect for human life. I fear for a society that seeks to be the “super hero,” seeks to do the good without really weighing their decisions about the good against the gold standard of tradition. What they will eventually find is that what they thought was gold crumble in their hands, being left only with ash.