Did Shane Take a Course in Normative Ethics?

I watched “Shane” last night for the first time.  Growing up, the cartoons and fast-paced stories ruined the classics for me.  Only now, as an adult (I can’t call myself that without shaking my head) can I appreciate them.

I’ve always wanted to be Shane.  The man exemplifies Christian ethics and fulfills a Godly male archetype.  And when called on to defend his friends, he proved himself an expert gunslinger.  He fought for the good against overwhelming odds.

Something else about the story fascinates me.

All the members of Shane’s community presupposed a Christian ethic.  Well, all the good folks did, anyway.  And even the bad-guys were aware of the Christian ethic, they just didn’t respect it.  Even when the “right” wasn’t clear, and the main characters had to struggle to figure out what to do, in the end, there was no doubt.

Sadly, that sort of moral clarity is absent from Christendom today.  We don’t presuppose a Christian ethic.  The modern church has taken ethics out of the culture, wrung out all the good, flapped them dry, and put them back into society with a stiff, bleached rationalism tainting every part.

I mean:  Cultural wisdom and traditions are out of fashion.  These days, a Christian has to haul a bag of proof-texts with him on his daily routine, providing a constant stream of moral authority for everything from drinking milk out of the carton, to petting the cat.  We walk around with our noses perpetually stuck in Scripture.  We’re too afraid to make ethical decisions otherwise.

In that atmosphere there will be disagreements about what is and isn’t moral.  That’s when the unfortunate modern turns to his preacher; his preacher turns to his course in normative ethics;  and his course is taught by a man who turns, ultimately, to sense and reason, to figure out how to solve the disagreement.

There is no learning from each other anymore.  There is no cultural flare or distinct Christian attitude in Christendom.  Our lives are being diagnosed and assigned to us.  This system doesn’t allow for spontaneity or clever individual contribution to the culture.  It’s a top-down, rationalized, industrialized mess.

Worst of all, the modern purveyors of ethical norms cannot allow their flocks, under *any* circumstances, to turn to old-Europe as a guide for ethical norms.  Old-European Christians where true Christians.  They lived their lives in light of the Cross and didn’t have to have their actions dictated to them from the seminary.  That old moral authority must be cut off and replaced with the word of the seminarian.

Whenever I finish an old novel or movie, I feel like little Joey Starrett, watching Shane ride off into the sunset with no idea when I’ll see him again or how I’ll carry on without him.  I want to study the same course in normative ethics that Shane studied.  I want to go to his church.  That way, maybe I can shoot the bad-guys instead of taking shots of caffeine at the local Star-bucks (where contemporary Christian ethicists hang out).

They don’t fight bad guys.

It’ll take them a year to figure out who to shoot…the low-down Yankee liars!

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4 Responses to Did Shane Take a Course in Normative Ethics?

  1. the low-down Yankee liars!

    Good piece.:)

  2. Shotgun says:


    I’m enjoying your blog as well.

  3. Brandon says:

    Glad you enjoyed this movie, it had a similar effect on me when I first saw it a couple months ago. I’ve watched it again since then. I particularly like Jean Arthur’s portrayal of Marian Starrett. Just a good ol’ steady gal but beautifully feminine despite the rugged frontier conditions. I always stand in admiring awe at the femininity of the women in old movies; it’s a different world than ours where the average young girl is an aggressive, masculine harridan.

  4. Faust says:

    I need to re-watch some of these old films, hard to believe Hollywood once made films worth watching. The Old-European Christians norms are sadly very hard to find these days.


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