Jacques Maritain Center: Ethics Without God?

Without God, Resentment and Utopia in Mainstream Fiction

Tuesday, July 15
Morning session
Paolo Braga

Contemporary American mainstream fiction often portrays a relationship between narrative and happiness that bypasses the idea of a Creator. Many recent characters lack an ultimate criterion on which to build their lives; their condition is, so to speak, of persons 'suspended' between interior anxieties and emotional relations with other people. This scenario can be described through the categories of "resentment" and "utopia": namely, of competitiveness oppressed by a sense of guilt, on the one hand, and of the illusion of a complete and redemptive identification with other people's emotiveness, on the other. This is what happiness turns out to be: a deceitful unhappiness.

In my paper, I assume that an ethics of happiness is based on the notion of God. Through the work of authors like Sydney Pollack, Peter Weir, M. Night Shyamalan, and Michael Crichton, I will examine what remains of the concepts of responsibility, virtue, and good will when the relationship with God is forgotten. The absence of a clear reference to God in some cinematographic and television productions involves a reductive—psychologistic—approach that leads to a weakening of practical reason. At stake is a cultural phenomenon. Moral reasoning, to maintain its orientation towards happiness while avoiding the ultimate meaning of values, is absorbed in the anthropologically soft and emotionally saturated sphere of "immaginario."