Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Reaction to the Penn State Story - Some Thoughts

Today I want to share some of my thoughts related to the Penn State situation, especially what the virtually universal outrage and condemnation tells us about ourselves. Before I begin, let me say that nothing I say here should be construed to mean that molesting and abusing children is ok. Such behavior is a heinous crime against another human being and a sin against a righteous and holy God. Anyone found guilty of such behavior should rightfully be punished to the full extent that the law allows.

It's interesting to me that the actions alleged to have been committed by Mr. Sandusky have been universally condemned. My question is, "Why?". What does this tell us about ourselves as human beings? We live in an age when almost anything is accepted and tolerated. But why is this action condemned so thoroughly and completely? Is it because of the laws of our country? What if there were no laws against molesting children, would it still be wrong and would the outrage still be there? Would it still be evil? I think most people would say these actions would still be evil even if the law allowed them.

Is this the kind of behavior that is wrong in all time periods or is it just wrong at the time we live? Was it wrong when the Romans practiced this kind of behavior 2000 years ago? Or was it ok then because it was acceptable in their society?

Is this kind of behavior wrong in America but acceptable for other cultures in other places in the world? If the culture of some other country accepts this kind of activity as routine, is it ok with us? Is it still wrong and worthy of our condemnation? I think most of us would say it is still wrong.

If these actions are wrong and we all recognize it, is it because there is a "list" either written within our nature or "out there" somewhere that contains this as well as other activities that are always wrong? How do we find out what else is on that list? By consensus? By majority opinion? I don't think that would be true because most of us would say that abuse of children is wrong no matter how many people or what other cultures may contradict our verdict. So then, how do we know?

I maintain that the only rational basis for being able to say that such behavior is morally wrong in all cultures and at all times is if there is a God or moral authority outside of ourselves who has established the "rights" and "wrongs" of living. I know that even most atheists would condemn child molestation, but I don't understand a rational reason for saying such behavior is wrong if there is no reason for our existence other than the result of random processes over millions of years. Maybe it's in our DNA that molesting children doesn't advance the human race evolutionally. However, I think most of us believe that it is more than just the chemical composition of our DNA that makes us think this behavior is wrong. Most of us think this behavior is absolutely wrong in some moral sense.

I believe that the God who created us in His image has laid down principles and rules of conduct which, if followed, produce the kind of individual and societal life that we all can enjoy and in which all members of society can thrive. I believe that the God who laid down those principles has communicated them to us in two ways. First, he has embedded them generally in our nature. Romans 1:19 and following in the Bible says, "For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

The second way God has communicated His principles to us is through His Word, the Bible. I know that seems like an old fashioned and narrow point of view, but that is the claim the Bible makes. For example, God has said, "You shall not steal." I think most of us would agree that if everyone followed that principle, the world would be a better place. God has said, "You shall not lie." If you knew that everything everyone said was the absolute truth and could be trusted, wouldn't that make our lives and relationships better? This same God, all throughout the Bible tells us to love and respect others. He tells us not to treat anyone cruelly, especially the weak and defenseless. He tells us to treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves. The crimes we're discussing are crimes, not because they are preferences of our, but because they violate the very nature and character of God and the image of God that was created in us. All kinds of things can ultimately be excused at some other place and time or under other circumstances if they are not grounded in the character and revelation of God. If there is no God, there is no ultimate lawgiver and judge and we are free to do whatever our culture allows.

There is another thing each one of us needs to think through very carefully. If crimes such as the abuse of children are wrong ultimately because they violate the unchangeable laws of God, given to us out of love for us for our well-being, what about all of the other things that God has also included in that list? Everyone is condemning these crimes, but what about all of the other things that God condemns? Do we have the same outrage about those? Do we know what they are? Do we care? For some examples of other things that are on God's list see Exodus 20:1-17 and Romans 1:28-32 in the Bible. If you don't have a Bible, just Google those references.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I appreciate the point about moral relativism across time/culture and the presence of absolutes. I like the black & white lens that the Bible offers us in many situations that the world insists are impossible to state absolutely because it's different for every person, shades of gray, etc. I certainly fall short of living a black & white lifestyle, but not because I can't adequately define right & wrong in most cases.