Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Eureka, a 21st Century Morality Play

Eureka manifests a deep medieval Christian morality, with Sheriff Carter as Everyman. Cast as the simple believer, the Sheriff trusts all but judges few, unblinkingly learning from the circumstances and personalities evolving rapidly around him. His subtle core values of honesty, integrity, and openness to the new and unexpected, help us deal with our rapidly evolving world, where experts in disciplines many of us cannot even pronounce, let alone describe, propose solutions to dilemmas never seen before in human history.

In vivo fertilization? Transmigration of the soul? The collapse of the Communist ideology followed two decades later by the near-collapse of the bastion of capitalist economic theory? Is government bad or good? Is more government necessary or dangerous? Should business seek less regulation to pursue profit maximization, or endure more to mitigate investor risk? When, if ever, is property theft?

Café Diem’s food is free – but Vincent, the café owner, does not trade on that munificence to accumulate political or personal power, rather he serves everyone anything they want, regardless of their behavior, character, or status in the community. This conviviality is economically unsustainable, so must be interpreted symbolically. (It would trivialize the story to interpret it as political economics.) Manna, water from the Rock, a boundless gift.

Henry’s Garage fixes everything without counting the cost. Who else but Henry would officiate at weddings, become mayor by acclimation, and speak truth to power – his defiance of Eva Thorne is signatory. He refused to participate in a morally ambiguous activity, not because it is evil but because he does not have sufficient information to determine if it is evil or good. His wise pragmatism, a counterbalance to naïve enthusiasm, makes him an ideal confidant and teacher to the Sheriff’s late-Jobian incomprehension and acceptance of the mystery and power of Science, the symbolic manifestation of the Deity in our pragmatic 21st Century.

We each have our Vincent, our Henry, and our Eva. We each face demands for moral choice in the face of ambiguous but powerful forces beyond our comprehension. How to find a trusted wise counselor, and avoid a con man? Each day we awake to a new world, trusting in some of our gifts, assaying our strengths and weaknesses, reflecting on the path we have trod so far, contemplating our next steps. Sheriff Carter’s gumption and plain common sense in the midst of chaos offer a healing presence, a promise that we can make the right choice.