God and morality seem to be inevitably tied together in the minds of a majority of people in this world. In Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors, there is a suggestion the relationship between God and morality is fundamental. This film intertwines two stories, but one specifically caught my attention in relation to the correlation between God and morality. This first story involves Judah, a wealthy ophthalmologist and family man, who has had a several-year affair with a woman named Dolores. Dolores threatens to go public with the affair and Judah’s shady financial dealings unless Judah leaves his wife.
Judah calls his brother who is a mobster to murder Dolores, which he does. Throughout this storyline, a discussion about God’s role in establishing morals arises, and whether the world would be moral less if God didn’t exist. So the question is; How is the relationship between God and morality fundamental? In the western Judeo-Christian tradition, morality is endowed in all of us by the one creator god. It is as if to say, “essence precedes existence” (Sartre, 1957, p. 15). This means that, all humans are programmed with the moral laws of the universe, which are handed down by the creator God himself.
No one can eny these rules, as they are a part of what makeup of the human organism. We are made in the image of God so we are subject to the rules and laws that he has given us. In everyday life, many of our fellow human travelers commit “sins”. Sins are acts, which defy the laws of god. So therefore the committing of a sin must be met with a punishment. This view is shown in the character Ben. Ben is a patient of Judah’s in the film, and is going blind. Judah confronts Ben, who is a rabbi, with his problem.
Judah explains that he had an affair, and that the woman is threatening his life. Ben explains that confession is the only way o solve his problem, and that forgiveness is possible if they truly love each other.. Without confession, his problem will continue, and it will not be resolved. Without this atonement for his sin, Judah cannot go on and live his normal life. To overcome his guilt at committing adultery, Ben recommends confessions to his wife. This issue presents the basis of Christian morality. Ben represents the religious viewpoint of sin.
We all commit sins in life, but if we embrace the moral structure of the universe, and that instilled within it is God’s law, then we must overcome our problems. The consequences must e met if we are to grow from them. Morality is such that reality is defined by the unshakeable moral system instilled in us by God. The guilt Judah felt regarding his affair is evidence of this moral system’s effect on the sinner. Without the feeling of guilt and fear, the world in “all darkness” claims Ben. Nihilism, the belief that nothing can really be known, applies as the converse here.
If Judah felt nothing, credence could be given to the nihilistic notion that there is no moral system to guide our actions, but rather we are free to do as we please without caring about the violation of any morals in essence. But Judah does feel shame and guilt, so this gives credibility to an overall moral system. In Nietzsche’s perspective he divides morality into two views: Slave morality and Master morality. The morality of slaves, claims Nietzsche, is the morality of Christianity. Those with power, as a method of control, preach the Christian moral structure to the masses.
In contrast, the master, sees the world the way it actually is without moral law, and subject to the whims of human action (Kaufmann, 1967). To live outside this realm of slave morality is to transcend moral themselves. This leads to the notion of the man above morality. For Nietzsche, the Christian morality is based on resentment, and thus turns our natural instincts inward, causing us to feel guilt and regret over our actions (Kaufmann, 1967). This notion that morality is a human creation speaks the idea that “existence precedes essence”.
If man has no overall ‘nature’, then we are free to define ourselves in any matter we believe to be fit for us. We are responsible for the choices that we make, and therefore how we choose to deal with the effects of those choices. Nietzsche also speaks about the death of God in his book “The Gay Science”. In this story, a man comes into the town and nforms them all that god is dead, that we, as humanity, have killed him” (Kaufmann, 1974). What this means is not that we have killed an actual, physical God’, but rather that humanity has overcome the need for one in life.
The idea here is that man has overcome the Christian moral structure that has defined our actions for a long time. We as free beings, have the ability to create our own new morals (Kaufmann, 1967). This, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian viewpoint that “essence precedes existence,” claims that reality is not moral, that any moral structure in the world has been attributed to it by humans, not by a God. Truth” is dead. We see this clash of realities play out in the struggle of Judah to cope with his crime.
He is pulled in all directions, fearing that the world may actually be what he always thought, a cold place, with no justice, no morals, and no God. He embraced the moral and ordered universe because he never confronted the “real world” outside of it. And so although he was doubtful of the religious notions of universal morals, he was forced to look within and see if he did indeed really believe that to be the case. What he was confronted with was a belief, in his guilty state, that the world must be moral and a God must xist. In the end, Judah does not turn himself in, instead, he awakens one morning to find he no longer feels guilt.
In the end of the film he see him back to his old self, living as though nothing ever happened. This could only occur if Nietzsche was right, that morality doesn’t really exist, that we can live by our own laws. For Nietzsche, those who are involved in the world of Christian morality are weak. Only a man of strength can breakthrough the disease of Christian morality. In time, Judah does realize this,and suffers through the pain of guilt and remorse until it finally passes. His character shows that if there as a universal moral structure to the universe in reality then he couldn’t go on without suffering.
This is not the case. It is no coincidence that it is the religious rabbi, Ben who ends up blind, not just physically but as a metaphor for the blindness of morality itself. For those who want morality in the world, they can have morality in the world. But the point is that it doesn’t really exist, but was created by humans to cope. Judah in the Nietzsche’s sense, shows that even though punishment exists in legal forms it doesn’t exist in moral forms. His overcoming of the guilt of murder proves that he has gotten away with murder.
This goes to show that although there is basically no real morality that God himself has established for us, there is a relationship between them because we ourselves created God to bestow whatever morality we think is correct upon us. We created him and and we can also we can destroy him. The relationship between God and morality is fundamental because it is what directs us humans in the “right” path, or what we believe is the right thing and keeps us in a certain order, Although this order is at times not just or good at all, we use it as a way to cope with the harsh world around us, because without it we could not live.