The Myth of the Moral Compass

The Myth of the Moral Compass - Book Cover Pic

I love to listen to books when I drive long distances, heck even short distances.  I especially love action and thinker and detective novels by the likes of Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Lee Child, and David Baldacci just to name a few.  They are excellent writers telling fun stories.  Within these books are included snippets of the author’s worldview and how life should be.  Sometimes I agree with these snippets and sometimes I just shake my head.

***Semi-spoiler alert, I am on disc 4 of 10

In his most recent book The Hit, David Baldacci has Will Robie at it again.  This time he is hunting down a rogue CIA agent, Jessica Reel.  She had a stellar career in the CIA and why she has gone rogue is a mystery to all.  She declared her rogue status by killing a CIA man.  There are hints that she is on a just mission but that has not been clarified yet.  I haven’t finished the book yet.  But I was intrigued by a section where Reel is reflecting on her quest and why she has gone rogue.  She came to the realization that “the best arbiter of what was good and what was evil was her own moral compass.”

To hear someone say the best arbiter of what is good and evil is their own moral compass is troublesome at best.  First, the compass analogy denotes a northern pole that guides the compass.  When that pole is the holder of the compass, then the compass is useless.  Second, I hope Reel lets everyone else know what is good and evil because apparently she is the only one that knows.  Third, if she is the final arbiter then because she is flawed she will make flawed judgments. 

This thinking by Reel is very commonplace in the culture today.  Many people use the language of “I think it is right.”  In my experience this thinking is used by most people to justify previously prohibited behaviors.  This ultimately leads to anarchy and chaos because who can stop someone from obeying their own moral compass.  It becomes impossible to judge someone as evil if one subscribes to this way of thinking. 

Whether Reel is on a just quest or not is irrelevant by her own thinking.  If she turns out to be killing the most patriotic and philanthropic people, an evil quest to be sure, simply because she wants to, this must be ok because she is “the best arbiter of what was good and what was evil.”  However, if she does turn out to be on an evil quest and the main characters forgive her and give her medals for it then there would be outrage by readers.  Also people would quit reading Baldacci not only out of anger but because those values would not align with what most people find to be true of the world. 

If Reel turns out to be on a just mission then it is self-evident that she is not the “the best arbiter of what was good and what was evil.”  This is because others, based on outside criteria, would agree with her and would then award her medals.  What is good and what is evil would not be defined by her.  It would come from an outside source.  At a minimum we could argue for the law as this source.  However, the law is guided itself by an outside source.  More on this in a moment.

After she pondered her wonderful moral compass, not even a disc later, Reel had a conversation with a longtime friend about the people she was hunting.  He asked if they deserved her killing them.  She said they did.  She said she must finish the quest because otherwise she would not be able to look herself in the mirror.  That is to say that she would not be able to live with herself if she did not kill them and thus stop them from what they were doing.  To her this mirror looking is a test that if everyone did it then they wouldn’t do “three-quarters of the crap they end up doing.”

Unless her moral compass shows up in all mirrors, then she is suggesting there is something people know or can consult in order to do good instead of evil.  She, the pot, is calling them, the kettle, black.  She is passing judgment on them for following their own moral compass. 

Jessica Reel instinctively knows there is some outside source that people should follow.  What she might not know is that this source is God’s law.  It gives us His take on what is good and what is evil.  Fortunately, He has written it on the hearts of humanity.  Unless this is the best arbiter of what is good and what is evil then people will continue doing “three-quarters of the crap they end up doing.”

It is unclear whether Baldacci thinks as Jessica Reel thinks or put this conflicting view of morality in the book in order to make people think.  He is an excellent writer and I do love his stories.  Novels are great places to show how the world is and how it should be.  Where else can you control the ending?  Again, authors write from a worldview and include snippets of their worldview in every book.  This is especially true of fiction novels.  I mean who reads books where Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Javert come out victorious and are lauded as being good?

The Myth of the Moral Compass - moral compass I have aimed to show that the common mantra that everyone is their own moral compass is hogwash.    Instead we all answer to God’s Word.  This is the only alternative.  Otherwise people will still do “three-quarters of the crap they end up doing” and we will end up lamenting with the writer of the book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

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  1. Some thoughts…..How can we do anything but follow our own moral compasses? If you follow something called “God’s law,” why do you do it? What tells you to follow it? How do you know that path is the one to follow? Could it be that Reel and others are following something within themselves other than their own internal moral compasses? Could some people be so broken or wounded that they lack internal moral compasses, incapable of following God’s law or that of anyone else?

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