Recently I watched an episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit (SVU) - one of the most popular shows in the long list of Dick Wolf’s creations. The show follows a particular unit within the NYPD Police department that focuses on Sex Crimes. The show generally follows the order of: crime done, becoming acquainted with the victim and then the task of finding the perpetrators through different methods that at some point lead to the role of the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) as he/she argues the case for the Unit in Court.
The SVU episode that I watched took a slight turn. Instead of the expected and routine order of the show, in which the ADA would argue to put the criminal away, the ADA-Rafael Barba, represents himself. Barba is brought before the court for assisting a mother in ending the life of a terminally ill baby, an act that brought with it the charge of Murder in the second degree, which means intentional Murder without prior planning (premeditation). Although on its surface the episode dealt with this charge, on a deeper level it also looked at some central worldview issues that are worthy of discussion here. In particular, though not said explicitly, the episode examines the right to life; how we view law and morality through black, white and grey areas; and lastly the idea of truth. I think it comes down to this: words are never ‘just words’, they are congealed thoughts.
At the close of the episode, after Barba is found not guilty, he closes with a dialogue with Olivia Benson, head of the SVU. He thanks her for letting “colour” into his world of Black and white of rationality, where it is not all about right and wrong, or truth that is objective versus situational truth subject to change.
I mention the show and this particular episode because I think it relates so much to the current societal and cultural conversation that is taking place now. It is a case of art mirrors life and life mirrors art. As one famed Christian Apologist once said “It is like a man finding a corked bottle wash up on the shore, recognising it was the same one he sent out some time ago”. It is effectively a message to ourselves, from ourselves, about ourselves. So what is being mirrored here? What message is being sent from us and to us?
That there is a more favourable way to view the world, a more realistic way, a more “humane” way in which we let men live free without unrealistic and unnecessary boundaries. Of course the view may not be articulated this way, I am however suggesting that it is ultimately expressed as such. The message of viewing the world through a subjective and relativistic lens as an alternative is delivered by multiple means, but in this case through an art form that is often sensationalised. Subjectivism and Relativism are not novel. We tend to use them to test truth claims- “how does this view make me feel”. According to James Sire in his book ‘Why should anyone believe anything at all’, “Generic thought: All beliefs are subjective; one should believe only what makes one feel good. What is true for oneself is what makes one feel good, is what one should believe, if anything”. As a matter of fact, in Nazi Germany, one of the ways in which views were passed on to the public was not just through speeches and lectures, but also through movies. Gene Edward Veith explains the role of the movie ‘I accuse’, produced in 1941 by the Germans to sensitise persons about Euthanasia. After the movie was viewed, careful polling of the viewers followed and the results revealed that most people believed that the doctor who faced trial for killing his wife who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, was not guilty but right to do so. It is to be noted that the movie was made at the request of Karl Brandt head of the Nazi euthanasia project.
So here we see that ‘how we feel’ about issues as a way to live and view the world is not novel, nor is the view that persons should be allowed to do and believe as they wish. I would submit to you that what is also not novel is the need to test truth claims objectively. The problem is that it is not popular, though the call to do it has never been new. We must test philosophical claims, even as they come to us through movies. As one famed Apologist once said rightly, “Philosophy comes to us on three levels: Theory, through the arts and lastly Kitchen Table talk”. Because even though it comes through movies and other art forms, it is but philosophical claims garbed in pixelated clothing. Words becoming flesh in the form of characters.
Since the need arises to test and verify philosophical claims made, the claims made in this SVU episode are no different. Is seeing and living based on a subjective view of truth the way to live? In Part 2, I will give 3 reasons why I do not think it should be, followed by an advisable way to live.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci