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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Is Time For Christians To Moral Up

By now, we have all too often heard the expression "man up." This expression has a number of meanings from picking the right beer to being tough enough to suffer everything to conquer a foe to doing the right thing. The context of its use tells us the intended meaning.

Christians must create their own version of this expression that will cut across all contexts. This version would address our need to do what is right but differently from "man up." Instead of appealing to any machismo belief about oneself such as the expression "man up" does, Christians need to elevate the role of morals, values and principles in what they choose to do and support. Thus Christians, especially American ones, need to moral up.

We need to moral up because of today's descent into a conditional morality as practiced by most in our country. This rejection of being virtuous is exercised by both conservatives and liberals. Certainly conservatives and liberals don't implement conditional morality in the same way, but what they have in common is that their approach to certain ethics is contingent on some factors or effects that threaten what they treasure.

Though American conservatives pride themselves on values and being responsible and, in terms of personal moral issues, this pride has some merit; their standards go AWOL when their sense of patriotism or love for the Free Market comes to town. That special feeling of significance that comes from belonging, such as is experienced in patriotism, acts as a filter that strains out any morally based criticism of their heroes. This is especially true when it comes to assessing policies that call for American or Israeli military actions. Wanting to feel proud about their country and thus special, they project all sorts of angelic qualities on America and minimize its sins while they demonize all opponents. This love for country is also extended to Israel.

This is conditional morality. Conditional morality is the selective application of values and standards depending on the country or group being judged. If the U.S. or Israel invades, kills civilians, tortures people, or commits other war crimes, then there is no moral judgment passed. But if the U.S. or one of its allies are attacked, then we are quick to accuse the attacker of the most heinous of crimes possible. This is despite the fact that attacks on us just might be a response to what we or an ally have done first.

Such a conditional morality forgets what Augustine said in the 4 chapter of the 4 book of The City Of God. There one can paraphrase Augustine as saying that without justice, the only difference between a nation and a gang is size. Augustine states that if a gang becomes big enough, it is considered to be a nation.

This distinction is not lost on the common person. When Martin Luther King went up to New York, he would challenge the kids not resort to violence to settle their problems. But the kids came right back at him by pointing out that the U.S. uses violence to try to settle its problems in Vietnam. This logic was one of the factors that compelled King to speak out against the war. We should note that in that war, we were the invaders and we stopped a democratic process by which the South Vietnamese would choose whether or not to reunite with the North. In addition, we destroyed much of the country and participated in the killing of millions of South Vietnamese. Of course we would justify our murders by saying that our enemies were more murderous than us and thus what we did was still ok if not good.

Since Vietnam, it has been the same old same old with our interventions. We supported and committed horrible atrocities in Latin America, we supported the "Freedom Fighters" of Afghanistan because they opposed the Soviet Union--unfortunately for us, some of those fighters would help in the 9-11 attacks. We supported Saddamn Hussein especially after the dictator we had installed in Iran in 1953 was overcome by a revolution. And there were others as well. In all of this, American Conservatives see it as their patriotic and even religious duty to support all that our leaders have set their hearts on and they have done this while almost equating criticism of our country's policies with treason.

Conservatives also have a warm place in their heart for American Free Enterprise as it is manifested by corporations. It seems that for them, because they are not part of the government, corporations are the canaries in the mine of the Free Market and society. This view is despite all of the abuses that corporations engage in. My own blogging experience tells me that American conservatives are just has stringent in their defense of corporations as they are of American foreign policies.

But there is one thing we have to give credit to Conservatives for. At least they have no reluctance about speaking out on all of their views whether moral or immoral. In contrast to that, we have liberals. Their morals depend more on convenience than standards. Liberals want to give the appearance of caring, but their caring can be best described by a journal entry of Rachel Corrie as she wrote about how we care for the homeless in the book Let Me Stand Alone.

We love them when they are far away and we are snug and warm.
But when they are close to us,
And we can smell their rotting breath
And look deep through sunken eyes into the eddying minds,
We choke with fear and distaste and pull away from the outside.

Liberals tend to pull away from the ethical treatment of people when it isn't "practical," meaning agreeable. Sometimes that practicality is measured by whether they are standing alone. At other times, that practicality is measured by the effects that acting morally will have on their own prosperity. Finally, that practicality is measured by the effects a moral stand will have on their heroes, the Democratic Party. Sometimes these reasons stand in conjunction. I remember the 2004 election when Ralph Nader was challenging Kerry and Bush. Many of the Democrats I talked to admitted that Nader represented their values far more than Kerry did. But these same people would never vote for Nader. They refused to vote for him because they didn't think he had a chance to win and so they voted for someone who neither won nor represented their values. And because they wouldn't leave the fold, their Democratic Party is as much a part of the problem as the Republicans they despise. That is because the Democrats have such people in their pockets and thus can vote with which ever way the wind of corporate donations and lobbyist gifts are blowing.

For the most part, Liberals show their moral failure by their inactivity rather than their activity. Perhaps this is why, according to my personal observation, conservatives make much better activists than liberals. Liberals care far more about preserving the status quo to which they belong regardless of its morals. Such liberals have either a supernatural faith in the god of the pendulum or resigned themselves to fate. In either case, they see speaking out, unless directed to by their heroes, as a sign of having Tourette's Syndrome.

How do Christians need to moral up? Christians need to reject conditional morality. They need to realize that conditional morality is an oxymoron. For once we make a moral standard conditional, we have annulled it and show ourselves to be capricious when employing it. Thus for conservative Christians, they need to reassign their primary allegiance from their country, conservatism, and the Free Market to principles and absolute values, to God, or a universal moral code, without which what is left is the law of the jungle. And indeed, that is what many conservatives celebrate when they revel so much in our military might.

Liberal Christians must learn that to be silent is to be complicit, or "silence is betrayal" as Martin Luther King put it. Liberals must face the fact that trying to avoid anger, which is what they do when they silently and secretly support a moral position so as not to antagonize anyone, merits the anger of all. When this approach is employed, it shows that the liberal's highest moral value is self and the preservation of one's treasures.

Both liberal and conservative Christians must look to the Old Testament prophets for mentors. There, the prophets constantly stood alone and risked it all in order to represent God and defend His proclamations whether those decrees challenged idolatry or the neglect and oppression of the vulnerable. Conservative Christians need to look to these examples to balance their concern with submitting to authorities. Liberal Christians need to look to these examples to inspire them to overcome that comfortable reluctance to boldly speaking out when no one else is simply because it is the right thing to do.

There is a group that has been providing plenty of examples of practicing unconditional morals. That group is the Left--realize that the Left and liberals are not one and the same. It is the Left that not only preaches that we should take moral stands for morality's sake but practices it. Modern examples could be seen during the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests. Both started small. Both challenged the status quo. And both came at a high cost for some of its participants. The Left still is basing its protests on principle. Take some of those who are supporting the civil disobedience sponsored by Veterans For Peace. Certainly there are not enough people participating in the civil disobedience to make any discernible difference. But they are doing what they can to speak out regardless of who is standing with them.

This taking a moral stand for the sake of morality is part of what was discussed at the Left Forum that recently occurred at Pace University not too long ago. As Cornel West said there that being on the left means giving voice to the suffering who have no voice. Conservative Christians have done this in the abortion issue, though not always in a moral way, but it appears that once you are born, conservatives lose interest in your right to life while liberal only pay lip service to it.

Yes, it is time for American Christians to moral up. If we don't, the Gospel we preach will be relegated to irrelevance by the world and such will be an understandable and tragic error that would condemn the audience and implicate us preachers. In addition, much preventable suffering will be experienced by more and more people including our kids and grandchildren. But perhaps the most important reason why we must moral up is because it is the right thing to do.

3 comments:

Louise Legun said...

bravo, Curt. Is anyone out there listening? or reading?

Curt Day said...

Thanks Louise. Your question could also apply to all of the activism we participate in as well. But to be consistent, we must continue to write and protest because it is the right thing to do. Plus, it is enjoyable to have yous guys to protest with.

klatu said...

"error that would condemn the audience and implicate us preachers"

And that error could very well prove to be two thousand years old. The first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged is now a reality. A teaching that delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, direct cause and effect, evidence based truth embodied in experience. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must contend with a claim to new revealed truth, a moral wisdom not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rational and justifiable belief! 

History will soon judge if the theological construct we call 'Christianity' has anything to do with God? http://www.energon.org.uk