Quentin Tarantino is one of the finest directors of his generation. He is an obsessive devourer of film and a dynamic creator. He has an acute talent for blending sound, colour and dialogue into a rich tapestry which both acknowledges and builds upon some of the greatest filmic traditions. His work is famous for being shocking and provocative. That said, Tarantino is not a philosopher. I do not watch his films with a curious mind seeking to expunge the syllogisms and maxims being presented. As such, I was surprised to hear a lecture in which the professor of Apologetics at Oxford, Dr Ravi Zacharias used a scene from Pulp Fiction to illustrate how secularism, though a good thing in and of itself, has been abused and contributes to our post-modern crisis; the loss of meaning.
The scene Zacharias is taken by appears early in the film where John Travolta’s and Samuel L Jackson’s characters are driving to a location with the intent of committing a mass murder. As they drive, however, there is joviality in the car. They are calm and enjoying a casual conversation. The trip has a relaxed atmosphere despite the fact they are about to commit a shocking crime. The dialogue is as follows:
VINCENT: In Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s. Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
JULES: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
VINCENT: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
JULES: What’d they call it?
VINCENT: Royale with Cheese.
JULES: Royale with Cheese? What’d they call a Big Mac?
VINCENT: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
So what is going on here? Had you asked me before I would have said it is quite simple. The innocent sounding chitchat is a filmic device used in juxtaposition to the gravity of the scene about to come. Tarantino is deliberately trivialising murder in order to shock his audience and perhaps to make a comment on how society at large also trivialises murder.
Whether or not Tarantino intended it, Zacharias reads far deeper into this little piece of dialogue. The statement being made here is that cultures retain sovereignty over definition. There is no essential difference in the food but culture retains the right to define it however it pleases. Nothing has an intrinsic self but rather we confer value upon things.
This may seem an unimportant distinction when we are talking about burgers. When this theory, however, is applied to the Western secularised conciseness, the consequences become dire. If nothing has an intrinsic self anymore then good and evil can longer survive as intellectual categories. Rather than we conforming to them, they must conform to us and be watered down until they resemble nothing more than your personal preference and my equally valid preference.
What then happens to the idea of sin? It is another ontological category which cannot survive the existential blade. If cultures are given sovereignty over definition then we lose any objective point of moral value. The murderer and the rapist are no longer sinful but merely sick. And what of the myriad of smaller sins? What of the greed, lust, anger, jealousy and bitterness which manifests itself every day? When these were called sin they would produce a sense of shame. But there is no need for shame anymore, we can call these things whatever we want.
Robert Fitch put it this way in 1959, “Ours is an age where ethics has become obsolete. It is superceded by science, deleted by philosophy and dismissed as emotive by psychology. It is drowned in compassion, evaporates into aesthetics and retreats before relativism. The usual moral distinctions between good and bad are simply drowned in a maudlin emotion in which we feel more sympathy for the murderer than for the murdered, for the adulterer than for the betrayed, and in which we have actually begun to believe that the real guilty party, the one who somehow caused it all, is the victim, and not the perpetrator of the crime.”
This is the scenario facing us as we strive intrepidly to remove G-D completely from all public life and, if militant Atheists had their way, from private life also. The greatest Atheistic thinker of all time, certainly of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche spoke very honestly about the ramifications of removing G-D from society. In his famous parable, The Madman, he commented on the death of G-D:
“Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?”
Nietzsche recognised that without an objective point of moral reference there would be no up and down, no black and white, no right and no wrong. Because man killed G-D, Nietzsche asks, “must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” This is the ultimate manifestation of the anti-theistic worldview which has come to dominate the academy and which is trying to dominate society at large. We have become god ourselves and we alone will decide what is right and wrong.
Looking back on the horror of the twentieth century, a century which has spilled more blood than the previous nineteen put together, I wonder what is in store for us in this new century. Can we afford to entertain a worldview which allows two young men to drive to a mass murder with no sense of shame? Shame comes from the acknowledgement of sin being committed. Sin comes from the acknowledgement of a moral code or good and evil. A moral code requires a moral code giver and only G-D is big enough to do that. Without G-D all our morals are meaningless. They are the sum total of our societal laws and cultural preferences. They are ephemeral, like the wind they are here one day and gone the next.
Have you ever seen your own heart? Anti-theistic thinkers cling blindly to the theory of a Tabula Rasa. History’s rivers of blood continually debunk this notion. The human heart is desperately wicked and longs for redemption. As long as we retain the sovereignty over definition we will never condemn ourselves. We will always make excuses and devise even more sinister ways to feed the evil which is already there. It is only when we accept G-D’s definition that we see ourselves as we truly are and can accept the truth which stands large behind every episode of human wickedness; humanity needs a saviour.