On November 25, Creed, a spin-off of the Rocky franchise, will be hitting theaters.
Rocky Balboa, “the Italian Stallion,” is an American icon. A down-on-his-luck nickel and dime club fighter and strong arm man for a local bookie, Rocky’s life appears to be a dead end until a stroke of luck changes everything.
Everyone knows the story. But how many people are aware of the philosophical ideas underwriting the story?
First, Rocky’s is a Christian worldview. His universe is one that is created and conserved by, not just a Supreme Being, but the Supreme Person, a Deity that is at once all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-loving.
More specifically, Rocky’s God is three Persons-in-One: Rocky affirms the uniquely Christian doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The God to Whom Rocky prays while surmounting the challenges in his life—both those within and beyond the ring—invests the cosmos with meaning.
Secondly, Rocky’s theocentric metaphysic gives rise to the moral philosophy informing the Rocky franchise. In Rocky’s universe, there is an objective moral order, a “natural law”: Rights and duties aren’t determined by cultural and historical considerations, and they certainly aren’t the function of the individual’s subjective preferences and tastes.
There is a moral law that, ultimately, derives from the Supreme Lawmaker: God.
Moreover, that Rocky’s is a distinctively Christian ethic can be gotten easily enough for other reasons. For starters, unlike the various forms of ethical hedonism that pervade much contemporary morality, from the perspective of Rocky’s morality, pain is redemptive.
Also, Rocky embodies the classical cardinal virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and even wisdom, it’s true. But he also possesses the “theological” virtues of faith, hope, and love.
Yet the philosophy of Rocky raises questions.
Rocky is wise, but simple-minded. He is humble. Rocky is a character that could only be a hero in a Christian, or “Judeo-Christian,” culture. To the extent that “liberalism” and “democracy” are secular spin-offs of Christianity (a point made by both Christian and non-Christian observers alike), it is safe to say, then, that Rocky could only be a hero in a “liberal-democratic” culture.
Yet more than one thinker has challenged Rocky’s morality.
The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, had famously declared “the death” of God. What he meant is that belief in God or theism was on the wane. But if theism is on the way out, so too must belief in an objective morality be heading in the same direction, for, according to Nietzsche, if there is no God, then there can be no objective moral order: If there is no Legislator, there can be no law.
And if there is no objective morality, then there is no cosmic meaning. Moral values are not discovered. They must be created. And since there is no God, it is we who must create them.
Now, Christian morality and that of its secular offshoots is what Nietzsche calls a “slave” or “herd morality.” It is the morality of the masses, of the overwhelming majority of people who, due to their cognitive and character limitations, are both incapable of and unwilling to assume responsibility for their own lives.
This morality is designed to compensate for its adherents’ weaknesses by transforming them into strengths: e.g. meekness, mournfulness, humility, compassion, simple-mindedness, etc. now become virtues. At the same time, it subverts the morality of the aristocratic few, those relatively rare individuals who recognize that value is a creation and that they are its creators.
From a resentment of the proponents of the “master morality,” who are stronger, smarter, more creative and cunning, as well as from pure self-interest, the weak, stupid, and unimaginative invented the fiction of an objective morality as a means of facilitating their own “Will to Power,” the “will” to dominate, exploit, and subjugate the world until it satisfies the needs and desires of those whose will it is.
Simply put: There is no God. There is no objective morality. Christianity, as well as its secular variations—democracy, liberalism, socialism—are species of a slave morality invented by the masses to “exact an imaginary vengeance” against those who they resent.
What this means is that those who make demands for “justice,” “equality,” “God’s will,” and the like are demanding nothing more or less than that others serve them. Such purportedly objective, universal moral ideals constitute a smokescreen behind which their proponents conceal their own subjective psychological and emotional longings.
In the 20th century, the atheist existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre famously stated that we are “condemned to be free.” Freedom is not a blessing. It is a burden. It is a burden because human beings have nothing other than their own resources to draw upon in making decisions.
The Rocky franchise is not about boxing. It is about a philosophical worldview, a Christian worldview.
We can thank Nietzsche and Sartre for helping us to see that more clearly.