I got to thinking about the consequences of our actions and what that might mean in terms of changing behavior.
Telling people, “You made your bed, now lie in it” doesn’t necessarily help that person to actually make positive changes in behavior. On the other hand, constantly bailing someone out doesn’t help, either. Yet that is the artificial tension we’ve set up between so-called Christian politics and “worldly” politics.
For example, many conservative Christians are anti-abortion, to the point of wanting a return to its previous illegal state. Yet when a woman finds herself with an undesired pregnancy, those same people don’t want her to receive public benefits. The idea is that she made her choices and now must find a way to deal with the consequences. On the other hand, abortion is not a good form of birth control and a constant struggle to rise above public benefits is no way to live.
Another one is the moral outrage over sex education. Plenty of people would rather that their children not be given instruction on proper use of birth control, and some would rather that the whole subject be kept out of school entirely. Abstinence-only education, and if an adolescent gets pregnant or sick, that’s the natural consequence of immoral behavior. The alternative is “safer” sex, the idea being that if teenagers just protect themselves, all will be well.
As with the question of whether the Bible is trustworthy, both of the above situations (and most like them) are focused on the wrong thing. People are going to do things with unwanted results. Human behavior is much to complex to pin down to a naughty list, and there are always going to be exceptions to the rules we’ve set up. There will be people for whom the consequences are the same, but not by their own actions. There will be people who do foolish things and appear untouched by negative repercussions. And it’s a mistake to make assumptions about the “sort” of people who make poor decisions or need extra help finding their way back again.
Part of the problem is that we have a fix-it mentality. We see things in terms of:: a) Problems you didn’t cause and I’m responsible to help fix; and b) Problems you caused and you’re responsible for fixing. If we stop looking at this as some kind of puzzle or math problem with a solution, we might find it a lot easier to see something different emerging. The first step toward a healthier way of dealing with other people is to stop dividing the world into black/white, on/off, right/wrong categories.
The second thing we might try is getting to know some real people. It’s very easy to condemn actions, and the people we believe are taking them, when we don’t know anyone in a given situation. It’s easy to claim that welfare recipients are lazy if you aren’t friends with or related to someone on public assistance. It’s easy to be angry with an adolescent couple who have become intimate if you don’t understand them or their circumstances.
None of that means that anything goes, morals don’t matter, do what you want. In fact, that’s no way to live either. That becomes just as much of a trap, constantly acting in self-interest, taking instead of giving. I’ve seen just as many people destroyed by that as by condemnation. People who lean toward free-range morality ought to take a good, long look at themselves and decide if they like what they see there. Anyone who can honestly say they’ve never made a choice that hurt themselves or others might want to entertain the possibility they’ve rewritten history a bit. It’s just as important to encourage love, respect, and care as it is to prevent or shed negative consequences.
Ultimately, the best way to handle it is to consider not “what would Jesus do” but what does Jesus actually do with people we would prefer to condemn? We won’t find the right answer by looking through the Bible for Scriptures which point out someone else’s flaws. Because when we do that, inevitably, we have to face our own flaws first. Better to first love the other person, then pray for G-d to show us the way we can best be a loving neighbor to that person. After all, reaping what you sow isn’t just for those whose immoral behavior can be easily seen, but for all of us.