Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twilight: on the difference between beliefs and values

I finally got around to watching the first flick in the Twilight series. Yeah, I know: I'm behind the times, what with the second one just out. But there's a time and a place and whatever. Last night was it, and that was that.

About the movie: it was very good. Teen flicks, more so than other movies, tend to be inflicted with endless strings of cringe-factor-TEN dialogue lines; the stuff written by people apparently incapable of crafting believable, yet original dialogue. This is one possible explanation. The other is that they think the vast majority of the teenagers watching these flicks are linguistically shallow, unlikely to respond to a anything but stereotyped prefab lines, and possibly also intellectually challenged, because it seems like they need everything explained at length and in platitudes. Neither is true, and the attitude smacks of self-serving contempt.

Twilight's dialogue didn't go that way, though it was definitely 'teen'. It also spanned very nicely the spectrum of teen vernacular: from the laconic/reluctant/surly, to the chatty and 'whatever' and 'so' and 'like'. The dialogue also didn't make it appear like every teen was somehow mentally deficient or incapable of having thoughts that were definitely adult. For those having read through recent blogs of mine, you can see how I found that refreshing.

So, yes, I liked Twilight. It took the vampire/un-dead mythos, soon to be added-to with some more werewolf elements, and put a 'Young Adult' 2009 spin on it. Very cool.

Now to beliefs and values. Twilight got me thinking about this, in a thinking-about-thinking kind of way. As I mentioned before, the author of the Twilight series is a Mormon; and when you come to think about it, the fact that so many Mormon value elements are incarnated in vampires, of all people—'people'?—is quite remarkable.

It certainly doesn't appear conform to what you might call 'Mormon Beliefs'. These are the kinds of things that people believe actually happened. Like the Angel Moroni (sic!) handing Joseph Smith some golden plates with the contents of the Book of Mormon. Or the veracity of the biblical stories woven, in particular, around the figure called 'Jesus'. The kinds of things, in other words, where people, when challenged, will sit back defiantly and say "That's what I believe!"

What Twilight does very deftly, is to separate mythos and 'belief' of that kind from the values associated with it. One very important element in Mormonism is the significance of the family.

Rosalie Hale: [after Edward asks her to put on Bella's coat to distract James] Why should I? What is she to me?
Dr. Carlisle Cullen: [Hands her the coat] Bella is with Edward. She's a part of this family, and we protect our family.

And, yes, there's the patriarch, too; which tends to turn a lot of people off, but let's face it, it could be a matriarch also—though maybe not in the context of Mormonism—with the basic element being that 'family' and a strong 'family head', who acts as a kind of family guide/preceptor/conscience, often, if not almost always, go hand-in-hand. This may be in the nature of human social organization. Most people need someone to turn to for reference. That's just the way things are.

But the quote from Twilight above isn't a statement about 'beliefs' but an assertion of life values, which may result from certain 'belief' elements in a given 'faith'. But they are not the same thing. Of course, one needs to 'believe', if you will, that certain values have 'value' and that therefore one should endeavor to live by them. But those are 'meta-beliefs'; that is, beliefs about beliefs and their consequences. This is where we run into terminology issues, as one often does when discussing philosophical concepts.

It is probably a very good idea to consider the difference between beliefs and belief-associated values; because in the course of this one might that:
  • Just because some 'belief' may be demonstrably 'wrong', that doesn't mean that the values associated with the belief are therefore also wrong by association.
  • One may indeed have the same values as people whose beliefs one does not share.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, of course, but unfortunately it does. The majority of people will conflate 'belief' and 'value', or draw a direct connection in order to judge the 'value' of 'values'. This is both, wrong and very, very destructive, to human understanding.


Jettboy said...

Wow, I think you are the only one I have read that understand the distinction between "Value" and "Belief" or in this case theology. Those who are reading Mormonism into Twilight seem to get it all wrong, and I think you explained why. Thank you.

Till said...

And thank you, too. It's always nice to hear that there are people out there who a) understand what I'm trying to say (meaning I'm not being entirely incoherent and get more than the common "WTF are you babbling about?" response), and b) who care about such things.

Much of my fiction—well, all of it really—is concerned with issues that a lot of people appear to find obscure and puzzling, but which they're much readier to think about when they don't actually realize that that's what they are thinking about.