Authority

Our conversation began in Charlotte, North Carolina and ended on the Indianapolis tarmac.

It happens naturally at times.  One sits beside a stranger on an airplane that becomes a friendly acquaintance 90 minutes later.  He is 26 and had just written an independent screenplay for one of the big Hollywood studios.  I listened attentively, peppering my airline companion with questions.  Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous novel The Brothers Karamazov was his inspiration for a story that would engage 21st century characters.  The theme of the screenplay focuses on choices four brothers make about an ethical dilemma.  A question of right and wrong is then considered by those four different, human points of view.

Mid-way through the explanation of his humanistic theme–after asking questions and listening for 20 minutes–I interrupted and simply asked “Who says?”  Disgruntled he replied, “What do you mean, ‘Who says?'”  Focusing on his human-centered response to an ethical dilemma I pointed out that none of the characters had a basis for authority outside of themselves.  “Push comes to shove,” I calmly continued, “I could slit your throat while we sit here together and my defense for killing you would be no different than any of the characters you just explained to me.”

You should have seen the look of shock on his face.  “But you can’t do that!  You seem like a nice man!”  And again I asked, “Who says?”  Stumbling for an answer he said, “Well, I suppose I would appeal to the International Court of Justice.”  Shaking my head, I sadly said, “But they aren’t here to stop me from slitting your throat.”  His face registered a thousand objections but nothing came out of his mouth.  “You see, you are arguing for ethical behavior based on individual or group morality,” I continued.  “Remember Dostoevsky’s most famous line in his story: if there is no God, anything is permissible. That leaves me with only one question, ‘Who says?'”  Finally, after a full 15 seconds, my seatmate said, “While I think of an answer why don’t you tell me what you believe.”

And I did.  Our conversation continued for a full 90 minutes.  After hearing about my movie reviews he promised to send me his screenplay.  We exchanged business cards and shook hands before we left the plane.  “Don’t forget about that question,” I reminded him.  “Don’t worry!  I won’t,” he assured me.  As I have reflected on our visit since that time, it seems my airline companion suffers from the same issue that has plagued our human race since Genesis.  If there is no authority outside of ourselves, we have no one to answer to but ourselves.  For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this…it has given me another example of how to use everything you have taught us in class this semester. I am seeing the EATIT stairstep in my head right now….:)

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