I absolutely love when a fictional character says something that completely resonates with me to the extent that I’m still thinking about it days, or even years, later. For example, I don’t even remember which Scott Turow novel I was reading or which of his characters made the observation that teenage relationships teach you how to break up not how to stay together. The concept rang so true to me that I still reference it.
More recently, my husband and I were watching Three Pines, the television series based on Louise Penny’s books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. During one episode, the detective tells another character, “Grief is love that has nowhere to go.” That simple statement captured the essence of grief in such a meaningful way that I know I will remember it forever.
But no quote has ever rang as true as one in the most recent Peter Robinson novel when his character Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks makes the observation that “Superficial people have superficial morals.”
(I’m going to make a brief side note here: Peter Robinson is one of my favorite authors, and I actually got to meet him at the National Book Festival in 2008. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few months ago, and his final novel will be released this spring.)
The statement about superficial people having superficial morals was a reaction to how some people are quick to judge other people’s relationships based on some shallow moral code. No truer statement could have ever been made. Shallow morality is a moral code rooted not in love and compassion but in judgement and fear. Ironically, most people who spout shallow morality don’t think they are superficial. Many think they are spouting a gospel that can not be questioned.
It can, and should, be. In fact, I suggest that everyone ask the following questions before dropping a judgement bomb:
- Do you believe that a relationship can be immoral even if both partners are of age and are not hurting each other? If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you use fear and scare tactics as a justification for judging others. For example, do you tell others that trans individuals are stalking potential prey in bathrooms or that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles. If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you spout passages from the Bible out of context or without considering that some passages even contradict each other. If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you think that you have to be a Christian to be a moral person? If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you blindly follow your brand of Christianity, its rituals and its dogma without question or challenge. If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you protect your own and circle the wagons to protect others who think like you even if you know they are hurting others? If so, you might have superficial morals.
- Do you make sweeping judgements about other people’s difficult decisions, such as whether to terminate a pregnancy, with no understanding why the decision was made or the consequences of other options. If so you might have superficial morals.
- And finally, do you believe that whole groups of people are less moral than you are and therefore need to be treated differently – whether it’s Muslims or Mexicans or African Americans or refugees or immigrants? If so, you definitely have superficial morals.
The bottom line is that morals should never be used to make us feel superior to other people. In fact, they should instead be used as an opportunity to learn about, care about and love people who are completely different than us. They should make our world and experiences bigger not smaller. They should be based on inclusivity not exclusivity. And most of all, we should recognize that they are subject to change as we have new experiences, meet new people and learn more about the science behind human behavior. To me, superficial morality isn’t moral at all.
I know not everyone will agree with me. I don’t care. As the late, great Leslie Jordan (who like Peter Robinson passed away in 2022) said, “What other people think about me is none of my business.” Thank you Leslie and thank you Peter for your moral guidance.