by Ronald Hayde
There is much ink spilled over the innate goodness in people, especially in children. Over and over again I have found this to be true, even at times unexpected. And I believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that God hopes, desires, yearns that we will live our lives for the other and for the ultimate Other. This truth, however, does not deny that tug or pull to the “other side”: from selflessness to selfishness, from concern for others to concern for self alone, from sharing to hoarding, from giving to taking. Innate goodness often causes us to fail to see that real evil, by whatever name we might want to give it at any point in historical time, does exist. We don’t like to admit it; we certainly don’t like to write about it, but that doesn’t change the reality of its existence.
One only need look at our legal system for proof. Simply put, our legal system was designed to ensure justice for every person: a system that would see the innocent vindicated, the guilty punished, when and where possible, reparation made. This is all based on the premise that we are seeking the truth. But I think the truth has either gotten lost in the mix, or is just one of the many things we seek. We lie, to make a point or to get ahead. We seek not restitution, but how much we can actually get or how much we can actually get away with. Even when we are not fabricating the truth, it is embellished to such a degree that previous generations would have called it a lie. We have neglected the forward movement of humankind, and limited our interests to just how much further ahead of you I can get in any given day.
And we have taught an entire generation, if not several generations, that these ways are the ways of the world. We have taught them that we are not lying, but compromising, or embellishing. We have taught them, by word and example, that the other side will no doubt do the same thing, so we are just leveling the playing field. We have shown them that honesty is a relative term, and thus a relative virtue. We have determined that we can alter reality to suit us at any given time. If a former president of the United States can on one hand admit engaging in sexual behavior with one of his aides, and then tell the nation that he did not have sex with that women, because he had determined that the actions they engaged in where somehow not “sex”, and better yet, if the nation as a whole accepted or tolerated that explanation, we have witnessed the birth of a new religion: the birth of relativism: in other words, the truth is what it is at any given moment because I say that it is. So not only have we given birth to a new religion, but we have made ourselves the gods of this religion, and if not the gods, certainly the law givers. But please be sure to check the time and the day of the week, because, to say the least, things are subject to change.
We think back and wonder was there really a time when people supported each other in their efforts? Was there really a time when people did the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do? Was there ever a time when the “greater good” was something larger than my immediate needs? Was there ever a time when we knew what was the truth, and could distinguish it from a lie, and we were aware of what it meant to embellish the truth?
I read this morning that the doomsday clock moved ahead another minute – one minute closer to what is claimed will be annihilation. While I don’t know enough about the clock to know whether or not this is accurate, a quick glance at the news: world, nation, and local, would say they doomsday clock might not be too far off. When I look at the interactions of people, I wonder if we are even closer to annihilation than previously thought. We seem, on a whole, to have lost our moral compass. I’m not talking about the hot button issue like abortion, immigration, or same sex marriage. I talking about something more fundamental: a moral compass that guides to respect difference, to embrace diversity, to rejoice that we are not all made like. A moral compass that see the fundamental difference between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. If we can’t recognize it in our own lives, in our own families, how will we ever be able to recognize any of them in the world?
And maybe today is a cloudy, cynical day – but I have to wonder is anyone even concerned? Does anyone stop, and think, and then think some more? I think if we did, our world would look very different. Does anyone see that in so many cases our acts of charity have ceased to be selfless acts, and have become acts, that while they help a person or persons, they also benefit me? And that sometimes the actual benefit to “the other” is a mere by product of the benefit to me. Has anyone noticed how often our children have puzzled expressions on their faces when we invite them to do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing?
Some will blame this confused state on the government, or the liberals, or the conservatives, or the gay lobby, or the right to life lobby, or the immigrants, or feminism, or the Republicans or the Democrats. Some will simply shrug the whole thing off and declare “the times have changed.” They have indeed. The responsibility for this rather curious, if not sad state of affairs rests with none of the above mentioned groups, or any groups you might add to my list. I think it stems from the notion that seems to have become all pervasive – the notion that I am always right, that my way is the right way, and that I am clearly the most important person in the universe. We have allowed ourselves to be duped into believing that we are no longer the creatures, but the Creator. Pride has overcome humility; “me” now outweighs “us”; the former idols of silver and gold have simply been replaced with newer versions of those idols — ones that curiously are made in MY image and MY likeness. Coming together for prayer is not necessary, since I can simply talk to (read pray to) myself. God has not gone on a vacation; we have exiled God to a land we may soon forget.
You might wonder if I believe there is a remedy. Yes, I believe there is. These past months I have found myself spending more and more time with the Baptismal Covenant. It reminds me of who we are and whose we are. It calls me to a noble way of living, provides the various means of support in walking in that way of life that is, in so many ways counter cultural, along with the remedy for my own failures. It stands at the beginning of my day and at the end of my day, because it speaks of a truth larger than me. If you can’t remember when the last time you spent some time with those words of our tradition, go revisit them today.
The Reverend Ronald Hayde is a priest of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, currently working at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and School, Fort Lauderdale, FL.