The Perilous Good?

I am, perhaps, unqualified to give answers where they are needed, but I wish to provide a topic of discussion which has perplexed me. In my American Literature course, we read excerpts from Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I wish to discuss an excerpt from chapter 10 and the relationship between the main character, Linda Brent, and her master.

In chapter 10, Brent voluntarily has pre-marital sex, which we are invited to judge as either good or otherwise. I know of many Catholic friends who would without question declare that pre-marital sex is evil. I ask them now, what is evil about it: 1) the end (that which is aimed for and why) 2) the means to this end, or 3) the circumstances (including the influences upon and the tendencies within the person); all three combined, or only some of them combined? To say an action is evil or good is a rather vague statement when considering the whole of the given action. Such is the case here, for, yes, Brent has pre-marital sex, and indeed, she states, “neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness,” but Brent had no better choice in the matter (47). How so?

I often hear in Catholic circles that ‘there is always a better choice out there!’ What if Brent had made it? Wait a second, disordered sexual relations was the better choice to make? How is this choice good at all? Well, here lies why “the demon Slavery” filled Brent, and many others, both slaves and slave-owners, with “sorrow and shame” (47-48).

At one point, Brent’s master, Dr. Flint, decided to build her a shack in which she could seclude herself and thereby destroy her dignity, or as her master put it, “make a lady of [her]” (47). The seclusion was inevitable if Brent could not revolt in some way. Brent was the passive agent of this fateful end. Thus, when it occurred that a “white unmarried gentleman” took interest in her, she reluctantly obliged in sexual relations with the man so as to become pregnant, becoming an active agent of her fate (48). Brent’s pregnancy prevented the potential for rape. Furthermore, she cared for Dr. Flint because “the wrong [did] not seem so great with an unmarried man, as with one who [had] a wife to be made unhappy” (48).

It may be noted that a marriage between Brent and her lover was impossible due to the differences in skin color at this time. Thus, her moral situation was the following:

  1. Brent’s end: to become pregnant (the act) so as to prevent rape and its potential consequences upon Dr. Flint and his wife (the aim).
  2. Brent’s means: pre-marital sexual relations.
  3. Brent’s key circumstances: she was ignorant of the distinction between venial and mortal sin, but she still viewed sin as evil to better or worse degrees; as such, she is culpable to the degree she is knowledgeable of the lesser sin she is committing, but not such that she is necessarily damning herself to hell.

So, we have a slave woman who morally chose a better evil over another, caring for the one whom had caused her this suffering. Has Brent, therefore, done a good thing? Why or why not? If you say that she has not, you are essentially telling her that she should be worse off, and if you judge that she has done a good thing, then you are admitting that she “ought not to be judged by the same standards as,” for example, the Catholic standards (49). Indeed, Brent reflects that, perhaps, we should not hold her morally culpable by the same standards of Catholics or otherwise. Do you agree with her here? Why or why not?

I will make one last point, for it seems that the Catholic ‘easy-way-out’ answer is to say that one is either with Christ or against Him, and Brent is against Him. If so, to what degree can one be good while being against Christ? Such a question arises when one studies slavery. It is a sad matter when the good arises in the most evil of ways imaginable. Hence, my title here.

Works Cited:

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Dover Publications Inc., 2001. Print.

The Wondrous Bellion

A skeptic when he is shown of his falsity might be hesitant to leave it for the truth if no one shows him how to begin a truthful pathway. There is a middle ground in which the falsity is shown for what it is, and the truth is not yet fully revealed. The skeptic might be hesitant to set foot upon this middle ground if it means being in doubt of where to go. Shall he revert backwards to the falsity, or stay put until he is shown the way forward? Of course, it may be pointed out that, at the least, falsity is itself not truthful, and thus we know as much. This middle ground is key to understanding Jon Bellion’s song “Maybe IDK,” for Bellion leads the listener on a journey to this middle ground, and upon it the journeyman courageously (and humbly) admits that he is ignorant.

The phrase ‘I wonder’ is repeated twelve times throughout the song. Why did Bellion choose this phrase? Might we say that Bellion expressed himself as he was designed to do? For do we not try to understand something primarily because it has provoked us to wonder about it? Think of a child who asks questions about everything. Is it not wonder that provokes him to question? In fact, I would venture to say that we call children with that name in part because they wonder about so much. But, perhaps I am off topic. Bellion wonders about something because he was designed to wonder about the world. Is it too far to say that these things which provoke us to wonder are not designed to do so? If one doubts the world, do they doubt that they doubt the world? Are these questions not something to wonder about if you are a skeptic or otherwise?

The anaphora of the ‘wonder phrase’ aforementioned lends itself to a discussion of wonder. One does not merely wonder but wonders about something. What is it that Bellion wonders about? There are twelve things he wonders about, which could be reduced to these four categories: the material world, God, the fear of the unknown, and despair. He frames each wonder in a ‘why’ question. That is to say, he asks why he fears, despairs, or why his life is materialistically odd, all having to do with the design of the human being. Appropriate with the title of his album, no? Nevertheless, so too are we invited to wonder at the things he wonders at, for do we not all dream, live in a material world, fear the unknown, and despair at times (and many other things I might add)?

Ah ha, here we are opened to wonder itself if we were otherwise distant from it before or did not realize that we wonder at all. Bellion brings us to a middle ground, for if we doubted before, we surely can know that we wonder, even if we wonder at something that we doubt. But, are we hesitant to stay here? Or do we desire more truth? Do we desire to become doubtless? Here, we cannot look to the song for aid because Bellion only leads us so far on the journey. He gives us the first step. The rest of the way we must discover somewhere else – perhaps in another song of the album. At the least, we can humbly know that for some of the things we wonder about, particularly if we only guess about them, we may not be able to entirely articulate what we see, yet we desire to do so.

I appreciate Jon Bellion because he opens us up to wonder about the world and leads us to this first step towards the truth, a wondrous platform from which to ponder all of creation.

Works Cited:

Bellion, Jonathan, et al. “Maybe IDK.” The Human Condition, Visionary Music Group and Capitol Records, 2016.

Movie Review: The Quiet Place

In April of 2018, John Krasinski and others released a movie of astounding horror and wonder, for their movie The Quiet Place excited audiences with a depth of meaning, inviting all to wonder and awe at the beauty of the highest order of creation, the family. Take away the loudness within a family, and you might discover its essence through silence. Indeed, Krasinski does as much and more, for he imaginatively and ingeniously combines silence, horror, and love such that new meaning is bestowed upon sound. What do I mean by this statement?

I would like to imaginatively review the work of art here with the consideration of Dante Alighieri’s four levels of interpretation which have been historically used to understand Scripture. Why? Because these levels enlighten the imaginative genius aforementioned. The four levels are the literal, from which flow the allegorical, which for Dante consists of the tropological and anagogical because it is in the literal things of our world that we discover hidden meanings and spiritual mysteries. For example, the monsters in the horror film are literally ugly, but entirely what they are (there essence) is a mystery to us. A Christian in the audience might recognize the monsters as similar to anything that destroys life on earth, namely sin. In this sense, the monsters are not only anagogical but tropological, for a man in the audience may replace the monsters with something in his life he knows as sinful.

The movie begins in medias res, that is, in the midst of things, for right away we are months into the life of the family in the aftermath of the predators’ arrival on earth without any knowledge of their origins. The family itself allegorically stands in as a monastery or place of stability for those living in its quarters, for the parents – Lee and Evelyn – strive for a stable living with their three children while three monsters lurk nearby. Furthermore, I do not believe it a coincidence that Krasinski named his characters the Abbotts (a tropological element to the story), for an Abbot is in charge of a monastery. Some monasteries practice silence for large amounts of time, sometimes indefinitely except for chanting. Krasinski mimics such silent monks with an imaginative twist in that the monsters indirectly cause the silence, for any sound made attracts the monsters to kill the person or thing from whence the sound comes from. Here in this setting we discover the essence of the family.

The essence of the family is good living, which requires firstly that there are lives to live well. The threat or antagonists to the family therefore is not death itself but the monsters who cause it. Good living demands that both parents nurture and protect their children well, the father being the role of the primary protector and the mother as the primary nurturer, for their bodies are rightly and sacredly designed for such roles. This traditionally Christian perspective on the family manifests in the movie as Evelyn educates her children academically and Lee educates them practically, though both are not solely educating one way or the other.

In the combination of the setting and essence of the family sound has its “role,” for by it the ‘Judas’ character gives in to his despair, the son Marcus saves his mother and her newborn child, and the father in Christ-like fashion gives his life away for those he loves. How so you may ask? I leave the answer a mystery for you to discover in that I recommend watching The Quiet Place for its depth of meaning manifested in its portrayal of the family.

Works Cited:

Krasinski, John, director. The Quiet Place. 2018.