Monday, January 25, 2010

What About Pedro?

1/25/2010—I saw Nancy Meyers’ film, It’s Complicated, on Saturday night. I admit I liked it. It was only after I thought about the movie that I hated it. The movie is evil.

In the film, Meryl Streep has an affair with her ex, Alec Baldwin, who had left her 10 years before for a much younger woman. That resulting marriage is not working out. Baldwin and his wife have a 5-year old, Pedro, and she wants a baby. The affair between Streep and Baldwin will cause the end of his marriage.

How is this a comedy? Meyers works hard to keep us from considering that Streep is aiding Baldwin in breaking up a second marriage that will harm Pedro as much as the earlier divorce harmed the three children she and Baldwin reared. No one has sympathy for Pedro because he is sort of hyper active and, in a weird contrivance, he is not Baldwin’s biological child. The new wife apparently broke up Streep’s marriage and then went off with another man, got pregnant, and then returned to Baldwin, who in a fit of nobility took her back. All this is supposed to show us that the woman is strange. All it really does is prove how much Pedro needs a father.

The reason a basically decent woman like Streep’s character does not have to think about the effect of her actions on Pedro is that the movie is secular in the worse sense. Streep knows that the affair is wrong, but her moral sense is temporarily deranged. If she had gone to a rabbi or minister, as Woody Allen would have, she would have been told to think of Pedro. Instead, she goes to see a therapist and is told to seek self-discovery, which is the highest goal of a certain form of secularism.

This is why I hate the popular forms of secularism and think we need to keep in contact with our religious traditions, despite their negative aspects. At least they maintain the necessity of taking ourselves seriously in a moral sense.


  1. You make three distinctions of types of secularism in this post. I'd like to know more about each of them:

    1. Secular in the worse sense
    2. Secularism that claims self-discovery is the highest goal
    3. Popular forms of secularism

    Although I know that you're trying to talk about immorality, I would still appreciate clarification of these phrases. Because it seems to me that you should just talk about immorality itself, leaving secularism out of it, if that is your intended topic.

    "At least they maintain the necessity of taking ourselves seriously in a moral sense." How do they do that? Can a completely secular person take themselves just as seriously in a moral sense as those in religious traditions?

    Morality is independent of secularism/spirituality. Supernatural believers justify their morals with their beliefs, but they don't act any more moral or immoral than naturalists.

  2. I have not seen it but I know you have a way of identifying the where what why of the feature of the story that makes one squirm, quietly, behind the jokes.

  3. This is a very good question. The movie is secular in the worse sense--there is no moral weight to the actions of the characters, nothing is at risk in what they do. Compare A Serious Man. Secularism-self-discovery. If the self is the only reality (and I mean that in an ontological sense, not a claim that external things don't exist) then the expansion of the experiences of the self is the ultimate value. Much secular thinking takes for granted that the self is more real than anything else. Popular forms of secularism take non-religion as sufficient to define a satisfactory life. In contrast, in every religion I know of, a human life is compared with a kind of template (in the West, an ideal life). The distance between human action and this standard is of ultimate significance. I don't leave religion out and discuss only morality because no religious leader would react as Streep and her therapist do. Streep's self-discovery would not be the ultimate issue in a movie influenced by religion. I don't mean that believers behave better. Actual behavior is a matter of many things.

  4. "The distance between human action and this standard is of ultimate significance." Ignoring the undefinable "ultimate significance," it seems you are saying that shame and guilt come only from religiously imposed external forces. What is religious about parent-child or husband-wife relationships that have an ideal that we don't live up to? Why can't our obligations to others be the external force that imposes an ideal?

    "[N]o religious leader would react as Streep and her therapist do." I don't think a hypothetical statement compared to a fictional action is enough to require the inclusion of religion. You have morals (good ones) without religion, right?