Given the challenge of evil to our "sense making" many attempt to produce a theodicy, a way to show that despite appearances there are links between virtue and happiness. In religion these links are often provided by a God who will, in the end, punish evil and allow virtue to flourish. God, by guaranteeing the links between goodness and flourishing, makes the Cosmos morally coherent and comprehensible. This is the goal of a theodicy; it is an argument that the links between virtue and happiness do exist, even if currently unrealized. One might think of the Enlightenment project as the attempt to have the State (rather than God) guarantee the links between virtue and happiness. That is, according to the Enlightenment if we get a good social contract in place we should be able to create a world where virtuous citizens get rewarded and less virtuous citizens get penalized. . . .
Some history here might be helpful. As Neiman recounts, Europe was profoundly shaken--theologically, existentially, philosophically, and psychologically--in the wake of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. This disaster greatly agitated the Enlightenment thinkers, throwing into doubt their optimistic reliance upon reason and civic virtue. . . . No Country asks us to consider the association between virtue and happiness. Specifically, is there an association? Do the good guys win? Do the bad guys get caught? The answer, in both cases, is no. In No Country the association between virtue and happiness is radically decoupled and dislocated. In No Country we see a theodicy fail. . . . [But] according to Kant, for virtue to exist in the world we need a failed theodicy, where the links between virtue and happiness cannot be guaranteed. Virtue, to be virtue, can have no guarantee. In short, virtue can only exist in a world like No Country for Old Men. (Richard Beck)
My comment on his blog might not make sense without reading the whole, but I said "I loved this film and couldn't stop thinking of it when I was reading Barth non-stop this last year. You have here given it a remarkable interpretation which takes it to new depths for me (and I've thought about it a lot). Thanks for this. (I'm thrilled to have indirectly spurred you to write this post, because it is great).
I do want to say that I don't think the Christian theodicy necessarily presents us with a Disney God [where virtue always has a happy ending]. Mind you, it is often taken that way. I guess the promise of a resurrection or after life might serve as a bit of self-interest that promotes virtue for some, but I think for most people this too fails. There is hope and faith, but they don't really guarantee any benefits to oneself in this life, and thus don't take away the fact that one must somehow find the courage to self-give; to be virtuous in this respect.
Besides, one can never quite be sure one has actually been virtuous. Who is to say on judgment day we don't find out we were fighting on the wrong side sometimes? All this to say I don't know that I agree with commenters who have implied Christianity and Disney are alike. But it may be that no one is saying that. I just wanted to think about that a bit.
A question, though: It seemed like a leap at the end to credit Sheriff Bell and Carla Jean as virtuous, as holding out a heroic kind of faith. I see the general point being made, that virtue can only be such in a failed theodicy . . . but it seems that the resources to call something virtuous or right elude us. And I'm not sure what the faith is in. I'm not sure virtue can survive in a total theodicy fail, because a total theodicy fail feels to me like it did for Sheriff Bell: a total fail of virtue and a resignation to chaos.
Maybe I'm missing an important turn. Nonetheless, I really liked this treatment of the film and this insight into the history of theodicy. Thanks."