On the Church and Society November 19, 2007
Hofstra University, in Hempstead, NY, held a conference on November 7-8 titled "Bond, James Bond: The World of 007."
I couldn't resist.
So, I donned my tuxedo, slipped the trusty Beretta into my shoulder holster, and jumped in the Aston Martin DB9 Coupe parked in the driveway. The engine purred with quiet power as I sped off, hoping that a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, awaited at my destination.
Oh … excuse me, I was daydreaming.
The Hofstra event turned out to be an enjoyable two-day gathering of assorted academics and Bond experts talking up all things Bond. Topics included the Bond novels, the actual films and fan movies, Bond collecting, the gadgets, the science of Bond, and, of course, the Bond girls.
For our purposes, Joseph Allegretti, a professor of business and religious studies at Siena College, presented a paper that compared Ian Fleming's James Bond novels to Donald Hamilton's fiction featuring American spy Matt Helm.
Allegretti looks at the initial novels in each series – Fleming's Casino Royale and Hamilton's Death of a Citizen – with his focus on "the intriguing moral issues raised by the novels."
Regarding Casino Royale, Allegretti argues that "what makes the novel so fascinating as a character study is that Fleming here explores serious questions of good and evil, conscience and loyalty, that he will rarely if ever deal with again." Allegretti looks at three aspects of what he calls the "moral universe" of each novel – "the professionalism of the two heroes, their attitude towards killing, and their struggles (if any) with conscience."
Bond, according to Allegretti, finds the deepest meaning of his life in his professionalism, with "no place for love and emotion at work," compartmentalizing "his life into separate spheres." Meanwhile, "killing, it seems, is just one part of his job, and by no means the most important."
As for any struggle of conscience, Bond does wrestle with the existence and meaning of good and evil in Casino Royale. At one point in the novel, Bond observes: "History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep changing parts." But by the end, Bond takes the advice of his friend, Mathis, who tells Bond, as Allegretti writes, "to see evil not abstractly but concretely, personally. He tells Bond that there are plenty of people who want to destroy 'your friends and your country.' Bond should fight them not out of adherence to some ideal or principle but 'in order to protect yourself and the people you love.' He concludes: 'Surround yourself with human beings, dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.'"
Interesting point to ponder. Protecting one's loved ones and neighbors very much are the essence of police work. In addition, one can argue that at the root of a just war lies, again, protecting loved ones and country from evil. It also is commonly heard that soldiers on the battlefield are not concerned about the moral imperative of the war in which they are engaged, but instead, are focused on getting themselves and their comrades home alive. That does not mean they disagree or agree with the reasons of the war. It just means they have a job to do, and trying to survive.
In the end, one does not wage war against the principle or abstraction of evil, but against the harsh reality and manifestation of evil. There are many evils in this world, but war is waged against particular evils only when necessary. That is, when evil has to be stopped.
So, when it comes the work of James Bond, the protection of human beings is the principle.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also features "Liberty, Law and Morality," Anglicans vs. Episcopalians," "A Traditionalist for Staying Episcopalian," "New Voice for Orthodox Christianity," "Birth Control Poll," and "What's the Point?" To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.