The 88th Academy Awards are still making news today. Two themes resonated last Sunday night that mirror the moral and spiritual condition of our culture today.
One: Whatever hurts others is wrong for us.
Spotlight won for Best Picture. The movie focuses on the Catholic church’s clergy abuse scandal. Leonardo DiCaprio won for Best Actor and used his speech to warn against the dangers of climate change. (For more, see Nick Pitts’s Leo Wins Oscar: Is Climate Change the Most Urgent Threat?) Lady Gaga delivered the most-discussed musical element of the night, focusing on the horror of sexual abuse. And host Chris Rock commented all night long about the lack of diversity among the nominees.
Two: Whatever you do personally is right for you.
Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl, portraying the wife of a man who undergoes surgery to become a woman. Eddie Redmayne was nominated for Best Actor in the same film. Cate Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress, portraying a housewife who is threatened with losing custody of her daughter because she has a sexual relationship with another woman.
Why would Hollywood pass judgment on what people do collectively while accepting what people do personally?
It is conventional wisdom today that truth is personal and morals are subjective. As a result, the highest good in our culture is acceptance. Since we have no standard by which to judge others, we have no right to judge others.
But we know that this relativistic worldview cannot sustain a collective society. If all truth is personal, the Holocaust could be Hitler’s “truth” and 9/11 could be al-Qaeda’s “truth.” So we judge personal behavior by the collective good. Behavior that hurts other people is rejected; behavior that doesn’t affect others is accepted.
Such pragmatism is not a new idea. J. S. Mill published Utilitarianism in 1861, arguing that we should work for the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The late Richard Rorty, dean of American philosophers, claimed that truth is a social construct to be defined and lived in community.
Of course, God’s word holds us to a higher standard than the common good. In fact, our Lord calls us to “be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Why?
One: God knows that people, not societies, are immortal. C. S. Lewis: “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” We will each stand individually before God one day (2 Corinthians 5:10). You will receive or lose eternal rewards based on your personal holiness and commitment to Jesus today (1 Corinthians 3:11–15).
Two: People change culture. If Leonardo DiCaprio wants to impact climate change, he needs people to act personally. The same for sexual abuse or any other cultural challenge. Changed people change the world.
With Super Tuesday looming tonight, last Sunday’s Oscars will soon fade from the collective conversation. But what you do to love and serve Jesus today will echo in heaven, forever.