I recently came across this passage from Natalie Crohn Schmitt's essay, "The Idea of a Person in Medieval Morality Plays," published in a collection called The Drama in the Middle Ages (AMS, 1982). It offers a fascinating account of the Medieval European view of good and evil, and how this view influenced the way people experienced the world.
From "The Idea of a Person in Medieval Morality Plays" (quoted material is in italics:(
The war between Good and Evil was the profoundest reality of life, since upon the issue hung the eternal destiny of the soul. The salvation of the hard-pressed soul was the supreme prize of existence, and mortal life became subject to a single evaluation - the soul's progress toward God or its defection away from Him.
The adventure of life was, in our sense, inward and spiritual. God created the earth and the heavens and all things therein so that man might work out his life and destiny. Man was at the center of the universe and everything possessed significance not in itself but for man's pilgrimage.
The Devil and his demons indeed were very real and very close, and the powers of God and his angels needed constantly to be drawn upon to combat them.
What we call external reality was subordinate to the central conflict. The observer was himself in the picture at the center, and the world was more like a garment man wore about him than a stage on which he moved. The internal and external world were identified in a state of fusion and wholeness.
As a horror writer, I tend to think of evil as my bread and butter. Without some kind of badness, what would a horror plot be? For that matter, what would epic fantasy be without some Big Bad to confront and fight?
As a human being in this modern world of ours today, I have been led to believe that real life comes in shades of grey. It's fashionable to declare that there is no evil, only misunderstanding. (I don't think that's correct, for my two cents, but that's another blog post for another day.)
Reading this passage made me think a little harder about how different it might be to live in a culture that is totally immersed in the belief in concrete, tangible good and evil. Even if you're Christian, I don't know that it's possible to immerse yourself so totally into the mindset Schmitt describes here. You still have to contend with alternative points of view, even if you don't agree with them. In Medieval Europe, viewpoints that contradicted a Christian worldview were practically unthinkable, and where they were encountered, were dismissed as backward, which is to say, Satanic (thus folding them back into the good vs. evil point of view).
My question for you, Gentle Reader, is this: when you invent cultures with moral codes different from your own, how much do you alter the consciousness of your characters?