Republished in memory of Mike Smuts, who to my deep regret, recently passed away. He was an old acquaintance from my home town Krugersdorp, whose thoughtfulness I only became aware of in the last few years, through his letters to me about the subject of Good and Evil and God's omniscience.
Dear Friends, Shalom,
The booby trap bomb managed to explode, killing one person and injuring others in Jerusalem on Wednesday, because it was disguised as an ordinary package and the terrorist who placed it was disguised as an ordinary human being.
The amazing ease with which terrorists manage to disguise themselves like human beings reminds us, once again, that outward appearances have no bearing on the inner moral goodness of a person. In fact the trappings of civilization, clothes, language, music, technology etc. are all only decorations hiding the true person and making him appear to be human.
I think that is what Shakespeare meant when he said "The whole world is a stage." We are all actors and our true character is hardly ever revealed to others.
Good acting, on a real stage, however, actually reveals true character. Unlike real life, where outward appearances can't be trusted to reveal true character, in a play it's just the opposite. Playwrights and actors use clothes, language, music etc. to reveal true character. There, on the stage these trappings all really help to indicate the true character which the author wants to reveal to the audience.
Last week I had the privilege of attending a performance of Shostakovitch's opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk".
It shows us how a poor serf woman uses her outward beauty to become a lady in appearance, but her true character, apparently formed by being raised unloved, turns her into an adulteress and a murderess and her life ends in worse misery than when she started it.
We, the audience, disguised by culture and civilization, as human beings who aren’t aware, in our day to day lives, of such heinous happenings as we witness on the stage, take pity on Katarina although she is a murderess, but the masses, on the stage, don't share our sentiment.
For them even her death is only a bit of fun, which they are so lacking in their lives. Her naïve desperation to find love turns her into a brunt for jokes of the masses and a source of amusement for them.
Shostakovitch's music leaves us in no doubt which scenes are evil; the violins scream out in agony and shock, the French horns and the trumpets roar with anger and the drums bang with the warning of retribution.
The shock felt by the audience at the evil actions of Katerina and her lover is perfectly matched by the music, but is totally at variance to the callous, joyful cavorting of the rabble in the face of the same scenes of evil.
The jarring contrast between the music and the behavior of the rabble of serfs on the stage heightens the shock.
The effect on the senses, of the dramatic music, the shocking crimes, and the inhumanity of the masses leaves us in a daze.
I walked out of the opera to the taxi in such a daze of shock that I could hardly open my mouth to tell him where I wanted to go.
This opera has painfully drawn me out of my sublime hiding place, namely, culture and civilization, to ask myself if I am not also one of those masses scoffing at evil and suffering.
I find this macabre humor so shocking I ask myself the question: Hasn't God been overambitious for man? Shouldn’t He lower His standards of morality so that we have a better chance of attaining them, like the bar on the high jump is lowered when the jumper can’t reach the previous height?
The fact is that we only ask this question because we only have a short lifetime and are impatient. God, who is eternal, however, knows that it may take a long time but His goal is attainable.
Instead of being patient, like God and struggling to attain a moral life while living in poverty without elegant cloths, homes, music and the other trappings of civilization we can lower our moral standards like Katarina in exchange for clothes, elegant homes and other trappings.
There is no coercion to live morally. There is no reward excepting our own satisfaction and it may take our whole life.
The best we can hope for is that we are making a small contribution to shortening the time it’ll take for all mankind to become morally good.
But we must know, as Shostakovitch shows us in his wonderful opera that as long as we don’t become truly morally good people we stand in danger of those outward trappings falling off us and revealing our true evil selves.
Wishing you a great no news day