Posts Tagged ‘Herman Melville’

“Human beings must be known to be loved; but Divine beings must be loved to be known.”
Blaise Pascal

Imagine if society as we know it were to completely crumble, ravaged with war, along with our complete loss of technology. Countries would soon begin to crumble; social unrest would cause unimaginable destruction. Lets take our imagination exercise further; during all of this chaos and destruction, only 5-10% of the human population survived. All technology and anything related to it is gone, and very few things such as books, paintings, or structures remain. Being resilient creatures it is only logical mankind will slowly start to re-build.

Everything we know today would be a distant memory. Soon future generations would have no idea what “The Mona Lisa” looked like, or in some cases didn’t even know it had existed. Now imagine if the Bible and all other religious scriptures had been destroyed in the mayhem. With every passing generation the concept of religion as we know it today would have all but disappeared. It would be foolish not to factor in the 5-10% of those who survived, for arguments sake lets say there was no one dominant believe system among the survivors. The people who survived each carried with them one of our many different theological beliefs, but no religious doctrine survived.

Let us continue down this rabbit hole of imagination and say a few Greek Mythology books survived the downfall of man (Yes I am aware this can be considered theology, but I include it only because unfortunately it has been downgraded to “mythology”.) Future generations would logically begin to worship Zeus, and the many other Gods behind said “mythology” and believe this to be religious fact. Even if these books did not exist it is possible for a new generation to create a completely different religion based on the remnants from the downfall. Of course these remnants would be added to with stories passed down from generation to generation.

I feel it is impossible to have a society without the driving force of religion; whether it is to calm fears or to control the population. Religion although perverted and corrupt is a necessity; eventually new religions would be formed to meet these needs. Imagine if the book “Moby Dick” survived the collapse of man. All it would take is one charismatic individual to start preaching the “religious” lessons contained in this book, and just like that a new religion is born. In time as other books are collected they are added to the “Holy Scripture.” Let’s say “Huckleberry Finn,” “Hamlet,” and “The Lord of the Rings” also survived. These various works of fiction are then woven together in a collection of stories to form a new Bible, and out they go to preach the Word, promising life hereafter in Middle Earth.

People are hardwired to need religion in their life, if this were not the case religion would have died out long ago as man discovered science and logic, because of this primal hardwiring they would latch onto this with all their might, replacing, refuting, and stumping scientific and logical advancements. I am sure whoever put this “Bible” together would take some liberties and add their own material just like the Catholics did when choosing which books to include in the Bible. This new congregation would set out to spread the gospels of William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville, murdering all those who believed differently then they do. In time this religion and its created deities would become reality.

Now here is my question. If all of these things were to actually happened, then does the God of the Bible now cease to exist? If no one knew what a Bible even was, would the God of the Bible come down and start interacting with humans to show us he still existed? Although God made a promise he would never do it again, would he burn then flood the entire world only leaving one family to partake in incest to rebuild the world? If we look at history there have been many different religions that people have blindly followed. As time passed newer, cooler, more convenient, and better suited religions for social control became dominant. Causing all of the long forgotten deities (sorry Zeus) to be left behind and forgotten.   

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I just finished reading “Billy Budd” by Herman Melville. It was a good book, although at times was rather dry to read. The one appealing part of this book to me was the moral dilemma it called to order. Melville challenges his readers by asking; which is the right decision; choosing between what is morally right and wrong based off emotion, understanding, and compassion for your fellow man, or should society’s laws dictate to us what is right and wrong, regardless of our emotions; all in the name of order. This was the central struggle behind this book.

“Billy Budd” was Melville’s last book, and was written the year of his death in 1891. The story takes place in 1797 on a British navel ship the Bellipotent. The main character Billy Budd was an uneducated, simple and just man. He was well liked and respected by his peers on the ship. His superior officer Claggart was the one man who despised Billy for his gentle nature and popularity among the men. Claggart in an attempt to frame Billy accused him of attempted mutiny in front of their Captain. Billy unable to express his feelings in words became frustrated and hauled off and punched Claggart; he ended up dying by the blow. Captain Vere assembled a military tribunal to proceed over the trial with Vere as the sole witness. The internal struggle Vere and those presiding over the trial caused me to question my moral opinions.  

The struggle Captain Vere went through in testifying against Budd was interesting in that there appeared to be no struggle at all. Yes he felt emotional over this because he was fond of Billy, but knew that military order came before any emotional feelings. The feelings of those who presided over the tribunal were not as cut and dry as Vere’s. They believed Billy to be a morally sound man who although made a mistake, was acting justly considering the circumstances. They had compassion for Billy, and for the situation he was in. Vere on the other hand was very matter of fact in his stance that military law reigns supreme in this issue. He expressed to the tribunal that he two felt bad that Billy was on trial but was also the main person who convinced the tribunal to convict Budd of this crime.

Veres stance was one of this; had the trial been a non-military trial then the jurors could afford Billy the compassion and mercy he deserves, but since this is a military trial then compassion and mercy do not apply. Billy had either done it or not. Since Vere had witnessed the crime, and Billy had admitted to it then there was no room for discussion. Billy must be sentenced to death. He feared if Budd was not convicted and word got out about his acquittal then the integrity of British military law would be under minded. Vere could tell the men standing over the tribunal were having a difficult time with this decision, and therefore pleaded to them.

Seeing this and knowing what was at stake Vere made one final speech to the officers. He said “but the exceptional in the matter moves the hearts within you. Even as mine is moved. But let not warm hearts betray heads that should be cool. But something in your aspect seems to urge that it is not solely the heart that moves in you, but also the conscience, the private conscience. But tell me whether or not, occupying the position we do, private conscience should not yield to the imperial one formulated in the mode under which alone we officially proceed?”  He made the argument that it is human nature to feel for a man who they see as right with God, but called to their attention the buttons they were wearing. He said “do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King.” In the end Budd was convicted and hanged.

This story holds many different outlooks on morality. In one hand you have Budd who was a good man with good morals who accidently committed the most immoral crime one can commit. In this scenario is Budd a good or bad man? Well this is tough. It is not as though Budd killed a man in self-defense. He killed a man out of anger, because he was not properly educated enough to express complex emotions. In this scenario you could say this was a crime of passion, because it was fueled by anger. I think Budd is guilty of the crime, but I disagree with the punishment. I feel the only time murder is warranted is when it is in self-defense. This should be the only exception to the rule.

Next you have the officers presiding over the tribunal. They wanted to give Budd a non-guilty verdict because they believed he was a just man who was right in God’s eye. There compassion reigned over their duty. They knew what kind of man Claggart was, and believed he had it coming to him. They also understood the severity over the accusation of mutiny, which by its own standards also carried a death sentence. There desired decision was to hand down a not guilty verdict. They truly struggled with this decision. The question is if judges used personal feelings in deciding sentencing then the whole system becomes less about justice and more about personal feelings. Can we afford to live in such a system? This is a tough question for me because there are some crimes I think do not warrant such harsh penalties and others I think are not harsh enough. This is a slippery moral question to answer.

Finally we have Captain Vere, who I believe holds the key dilemma of morality in this story. Should he be condemned as an evil man because of his abstract notion of duty blinded him to true justice and compassion? Or should he be considered a hero who rose above sentiment to meet the need for order, authority, and law in human affairs. I battle with this question because I think there is a huge grey area in-between that is hard to quantify. I think your own personal answer will show what side of morality you are on.