Tag Archive | morality

Reap What You Sow

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.

Moral Source

Some recent interactions with friends and family have left me wondering: If there is no source for moral conduct, then how do we figure out what’s right and wrong?  Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual (fundamentalist argument that the Bible fits the bill aside).  So where is the line between anything goes and some things are simply not moral or ethical?

I don’t buy into the slippery slope idea.  Just because I’ve rejected some things as morally unimportant doesn’t mean that I will eventually reject everything.  After all, I now have short hair and I don’t wear a hat in church, but I’m not about to teach Sunday school in a bikini.  On the other hand, when a person rejects everything, what’s left?

I’ve noticed that many of my fellow Christians believe that in order to be a moral person, one must be a Christian.  I will personally vouch for that being untrue.  I have many friends and family members who are highly moral people.  I also know more than a few people who call themselves Christians but slowly destroy the lives of themselves and those around them by their lack of character.  Clearly the answer isn’t religion (or even “relationship,” as my Christian brothers and sisters like to say).

The one big difference I see is between people who genuinely care about the well-being of others and those who don’t, or don’t appear to.  One recent conversation left me reeling.  Afterward, I ended up having the sense that the person to whom I was speaking has almost no regard for other people.  She bases her decisions in life on what she personally will stand to gain from her actions, or, in some cases, what harm may come to her as a result.

Sadly, this is the sort of thing that bleeds into every aspect of one’s life.  If you don’t like some aspect of your job, go ahead and quit instead of finding ways to cope, work around it, or change the nature of what you do at work.  If a relationship isn’t working, send the other person packing instead of finding out what lies beneath the surface.  If you’re tired of the preaching at your church, try out a different one.  And all the while, you convince yourself you’ll be happier once that issue is out of your life.  One problem: It doesn’t work.  I’ve seen countless people slowly bleed emotionally from trying to hold that kind of lifestyle together.  The bar is set lower and lower, until running from one job or relationship or location to the next develops an impossible pace.

At this point, there are people rolling their eyes and wondering who I am to judge someone else for living his or her own life.  After all, if someone wants to engage in serial monogamy or church shopping or change jobs once a year or repeatedly move town to town, what business is it of mine?  To be honest, I don’t actually care what someone else does, until I see the effect on the people around them.  When person after person is wounded by someone else’s discontent, it makes me angry.

I originally saw this in the context of marriage.  We live in a society where marriage is disposable.  Divorce can be costly if it’s contentious, but it’s not difficult to obtain in a legal sense.  More and more I’m seeing people explain it away by saying that people grow apart, that marriage shouldn’t be difficult, or that modern marriage isn’t really meant to last a lifetime.  I wonder, though, if those same people feel the same about blood relatives or best friends.  Are the same people as quick to say, “My sister annoys me.  I’m just not ever going to talk to her again”?  I suppose some might.  But the majority of people wouldn’t treat family that way.  Why treat marriage that way?

If it were only people outside the church living this way, I might feel some hope.  If we Christians were bringing love and grace and forgiveness and hope to despairing people, there would be a chance to stop the spiritual and emotional injuries.  Sadly, the discontent is all to common even inside the church.  The only difference is that inside the church, people feel the need to justify themselves, often by using the Bible in a legalistic manner.

I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t actually know how to tackle this sticky problem.  It doesn’t seem like enough to throw Bible verses at the problem or remind people about the responsibilities of keeping one’s commitments.  And it’s made even thornier because of legitimate reasons to quit one’s job, end a marriage, chase a dream, or leave a church.  How do we determine where the line is between selfish pursuits and protecting ourselves from real harm?

Affirming Promiscuity?

When you say stupid things in public, it’s going to come back to bite you in the butt someday.  My hope is that this trash from Chuck Colson eventually finds its way back to him an unexpected and unpleasant way.

You know, I may not agree with everything a person says.  But if it’s conveyed in a respectful manner that acknowledges factual information, I’m in favor of listening.  My hope, when I saw the aforementioned article, was that perhaps Colson had some reasonable things to say.  Maybe he would have a kind, respectful manner of laying out the issues as he sees them.  I should have known better.

Instead of honest dialogue, we are left with garbage like this:

I have never believed that gays wanted to marry. Their behavior by its very nature is too promiscuous. Gay relationships are for the most part sexually open rather than exclusive.

Really?  This is news to me.  You know, I was going to say that perhaps Colson doesn’t actually know any real, live gay people.  But I’m amending that to suggest he doesn’t know any real, live human beings.  Who does he think is responsible for the majority of divorces, adultery, and visits to prostitutes?  Who does he believe is buying pornography?  And how did he miss the recent statistics that 80% of self-proclaimed evangelicals ages 18-29 have had premarital sex?

As for his other point, that same-sex couples don’t actually want to get married: Also for the birds.  That isn’t because he’s entirely wrong about the statistics.  But if suddenly all straight people were not allowed to get married, I suspect that even the couples who live together without a legal document would want to support the rights of others to be married.  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the same holds true for same-sex couples?

As I read this, I was reminded that this was exactly how African American slaves were seen, despite evidence pointing to the contrary.  It disgusts me that we have simply transmuted one variety of hate into another.   (Actually, I don’t believe that the racist stereotype has been eradicated.)

This is the time for stepping up and showing love to our brothers and sisters, not condemning them.  It sickens me that Colson would put such crap in print.  But it is equally disturbing that my fellow Christians would pass it on, failing to see that there is no love behind his words.  I don’t care for the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but in this case, all we have is “hate the sin.”

Do us all a favor and don’t pass this one on to all your friends as though it represents a fair and reasonable point of view.