Morality from the Outside

May 24, 2006

Last night I went to a production of “Lord of the Flies” in a tiny theatre in the city centre. A small audience braved the cold and wet. The play was done well – production values were high and the actors played much younger English schoolboys with great enthusiasm.

For people who weren’t forced to read William Golding’s novel in school, Wikipedia has a cheatsheet which gives you the basics. It’s an allegorical novel – a group of schoolboys are abandoned on a desert island after a planecrash during a war (they’re Lost, so to speak). They quickly lose their inhibitions and the thin veneer of civilisation that overlays their lives and revert to a murderous savage barbarity.

Golding was a believer in the Leviathan, that without rigid rules backed by power we revert to anarchy and savagery. That our natural state is the Hobbsian one where life is nasty, brutish and short.

And although Lord of the Flies isn’t a religious tract, I would think that its message can be clearly heard in the regular denunciations by some Christians of ‘secular humanism’ or ‘moral relativism’. In their view, humanity has no inherent knowledge of right or wrong; and without the rules of conduct laid out in the Bible (which, like the naval officer at the end of the novel, comes not from within our society but from without) we are like little boys on an island without teachers or parents; and we’ll be killing each other and worshipping pig’s heads before a week is out.

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One Response to “Morality from the Outside”

  1. Cusanus Says:

    If that’s what the theatre group left you with, then they’ve missed the irony of the ending of the novel. The naval officer is armed and in command of a floating weapon. There is no morality coming from the outside – the chance for the boys to save themselves was there all the time but they were so caught up in their fear that they killed Simon, who came out of the wilderness telling them that they had nothing to fear but themselves.

    OK, so I’m an English teacher!


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