“I am the ill intent”: Wilson Fisk, Daredevil, Privatio Boni, and the Right Ordering of Our Desires

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
7 September 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

“I am the ill intent.” So says Wilson Fisk in the season finalé of Marvel’s Daredevil. I’ve finally finished watching this magnificent show. It is perhaps one of the most Catholic shows I’ve seen. It follows the attempts of Matthew Murdock, Daredevil, a Roman Catholic son of a boxer born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen and of Wilson Fisk as each man tries to save the city of Hell’s Kitchen. Murdock gains superhuman sensory abilities when he is blinded by chemicals as a child in a car accident. Using his gifts, the now grown Murdock seeks to bring justice to Hell’s Kitchen, both as a lawyer for the underprivileged (Catholic Social Teaching anyone?) and as a man in the mask fighting those who slip through the legal system’s fingers. He has only one rule, he doesn’t kill. His main foe, for sometime unseen and unknown, is Wilson Fisk. Fisk is a giant of a man with immeasurable strength and wealth. He was also born and mostly raised in Hell’s Kitchen and sees himself as its savior.

In the season finalé, a captured Fisk begins relating the story of the Good Samaritan. You can watch it here:

Fisk, up to this point, has seen himself as the Samaritan, the good man who saves the dying traveler. Now, however, he realizes he is the ill content, the ones who set upon the traveler and leave him for dead. He realizes that what he truly wants is not to save the city, but to destroy it so he can remake it in his own image. Fisk, in many ways, epitomizes the Augustinian notion of evil as the privatio boni, the privation of the good. For Augustine, as well as for many of the Church Fathers, evil has not being, not really. Evil is instead a privation or perversion of the good. So nothing can be totally evil. Evil is always found by wrongly pursuing some good. Fisk wants to “save” Hell’s Kitchen. This is a good and noble desire. It’s a desire he shares with Daredevil. But he pursues it wrongly. He pursues it by killing, exhorting, racketeering, and other unseemly means. His desire is perverted, not in the sexual sense, but in the sense that it is misaligned.

Now, it’s important to note that Murdock’s desires are not perfect and neither is he. Nevertheless, the way he desires to save the city is through ennobling its citizens, by removing the cancerous cells, like Fisk, though not by killing them but turning them over to the authorities (and occasionally putting them in the hospital first). Murdock’s primary and most consistent confidant for most of the show is his priest. He turns to him for guidance, especially when his desire to kill Fisk is at its strongest. Through the ministrations of the sacrament of confession (which admittedly is never shown to include absolution), Murdock is able to overcome his bad desires, his vices. But it isn’t enough to abstain from sin, one must turn to virtue. So Murdock goes from being the man in the mask or the devil of Hell’s Kitchen and becomes Daredevil. A symbol of fear to the criminal element in Hell’s Kitchen and of hope to the marginalised. He hasn’t yet moved from anger to charity, not toward his enemies, unless not killing them can be seen as a kind of charity, but he is on the right path. Murdock is on the path of well-ordered desires and according to Augustine, this path ends in the Beatific Vision.

Sincerely,
David

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The Christmas List: Training in Covetousness or the Training of Desires?

David Russell Mosley

5661150

Advent
10 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Last year I wrote a post responding to a new professor at my alma mater on Father Christmas. The problem, according to Dr Samples, is that Father Christmas/Santa Claus has become a source for perpetuating economic disparities. As I noted in the post, a friend of mine once told me that she discovered Santa wasn’t real because the rich(er) kids down the road got more and more expensive presents than she did. Recently, a new friend of mine, writing an excellent series of posts concerning the United States’s unnamed god, Affluence. He suggests that by training our children to write Christmas lists is to train them in the worship of affluence by teaching them to covet, to desire things they don’t have but want to have. However, I think the Christmas list and the presents brought by Father Christmas do not have to be trainers in covetousness nor perpetuations of economic disparity.

Now, first let me say that nothing will stop some parents from lavishing their children with presents at Christmas time. I was spoiled as a child, all the time, not simply at Christmas. However, I was trained not to brag about my presents because not everyone could get the same things I did. This actually taught me to share, but this is besides the point. If we cannot permanently change how our given neighbourhood parents “do” Christmas, as regards presents, we can change how we and our churches do it. Let me suggest at least one way.

A professor of mine talks about training his children’s desires. He will ask them what they want (desire) for dinner. They might say chips (fries), or candy, or fast food. He will then tell them that instead of any of those things they are having baked fish (or whatever has been made for dinner). The point is to teach them what they ought to desire. By allowing them to voice what they really do desire, but not give it to them, he is helping them learn what they ought to desire versus what they do desire in a given instance. I’m sure this ends in meltdowns and tears often. I’m equally sure that some nights he gives in. But the point is to try, to try to change their desires from low things, that can be good at times, to higher things that are much better. When we allow our children to make Christmas lists that they send to Father Christmas, we’re allowing them to voice their desires. Yet we are not bound to get anything on those lists. Some items may be intangibles, I frequently asked for snow. Others may be well outside of the parents’ price range. J. R. R. Tolkien used to write letters from Father Christmas to his children. While as the stories grew so did the Father Christmas mythology, equally, most of the letters are a way of explaining why the children didn’t get everything on their lists; typically, this is because of some catastrophe that happened at the North Pole. I think we can take this a step further.

I do not have children old enough to ask for anything for Christmas yet, so these are purely ideals that will likely change over time. Nevertheless, I think there is a way that we can allow our children to give voice to their desires in the Christmas list that will be beneficial to them, especially when they don’t receive all the things they asked for. A child might ask for the latest video game system and instead might get a book. A child might ask for a pony, or even a puppy, and yet only get an art set. It’s likely they will be sad not to get all the things on their lists. Yet, if we as parents continue to get them things that are good for them (I am not suggesting that video games, ponies, or puppies are inherently bad for children, just that they represent rather expensive options that parents may not be able to buy their children) we can train them in their desires; and I think we will see a change in what they ask for, because their desires will be being properly ordered.

Parents of children who actually ask for presents, what do you think? Am I completely off base here?

Sincerely yours,

David

Bored by Joy: Fairy Tales as Appetisers for Beatitude: A Response to Matthew Moser

David Russell Mosley

Lent 5 April 2014 On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire Dear Friends and Family, Over at Christ and University, Matt Moser has written another post about teaching Dante to which I feel inclined to respond. Moser notes and laments that as he and his students (along with Dante) entered Paradise in the Commedia, the students found it boring. As Moser himself notes, this is somewhat to be expected. Even in the best translation, this is still a translation of sixteenth century Italian epic poem. Even the Paradiso is filled with political and contemporary (to Dante) commentary. This, however, was not the centre of their boredom, rather the happiness was. Moser goes on to relate his own acquisition of an appetite for joy which was kindled by a reading of The Lord of the Rings.

He remembers how he had to foster an appetite for joy just as he had to foster an appetite for classical music. Moser again asks the question of how do we do this for those we teach, how do we help them foster an appetite for joy? In my previous response to Moser’s challenges on teaching Dante, I suggested that living in such a way that shows our belief in a cosmos (unity, order, harmony, created). Today, I wonder if another possible answer, or first step is the reading of fairy-tales. Spending too much time talking about fairy-tales can make a person seem rather childish. But what was it Lewis said, when I became a man I ceased to think like a child, including the fear of being thought childish, or something to that effect. I want to suggest that perhaps beginning with fairy-tales and working towards heavier works like Dante might better train a student’s appetite for joy.

G. K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy:

‘The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ (299).

For Chesterton, Fairy Tales taught him about this world, the fostered in him that desire for joy. For Lewis and Tolkien it was fairy tales coupled with the myths of the North, of the Scandinavian countries, the tales of Sigurd and Fafnir.These stories awakened a desire in these authors. This is the purpose of fairy-tales according to Tolkien: ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’ (‘Tree and Leaf’, 63). This desire, Lewis would call Joy in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. This would all suggest that to help our students or our children (or anyone for that matter) to gain a desire for joy, an appetite for beatitude, we should start them on the milk of fairy-tales before moving them onto the meat of works like the Commedia or even The Lord of the Rings Unlike Moser and many I know, I’ve spent my whole life reading stories like this. Tolkien was a part of my life from around the time I was born until now. Lewis I discovered in elementary school. I had resurgence of Tolkien when the films came out so long ago now and have never stopped reading The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings 2 or 3 times a year. Even now, I have begun reading The Hobbit, having already read ‘St George of Merrie England’ and Smith of Wooton Major to my unborn sons, hoping to infuse their lives with the sound of my voice and the majesty of Tolkien’s work. I don’t know how this will affect my children, but I know the effect it has had on me. Therefore I propose a return to fairy-tales. If in Tolkien’s day they had been relegated to the nursery, it seems as though in ours they have been relegated to the attic or the bin. Let’s fish them out, dust them off, and read them once again to prepare our desires for the greater works like that of Dante, and even more so for the Beatific Vision to come.   Sincerely yours, David Russell Mosley