It seems to me that despite many of our American traditions stemming from a strong Christian Protestant backgrounds our culture has gradually reverted back towards the attitudes of Old Testament ‘an eye for an eye’ morality. When we feel a wrong has been done our general instinct is to want to wreak revenge on the wrongdoer or meter out a harsh and vengeful punishment. I feel it quite rare that we express forgiveness or the turning of one’s cheek towards the wrongdoer as taught by the original Christians who sacrificed their lives to the hungry lions in the Roman arenas or by their Savior who gave of his life to the angry Jews on a Roman cross.
I see us expressing this in many forms. We manifest this in the way our criminal laws and penal systems are set up to punish offenders. We reflect this attitude in our civil and liability court actions. We seem to exhibit this in our foreign policies of measured responses when we feel threatened by another nation or attacked by an enemy. We are witnessing this in the way our Congressional leaders and other government officials conduct (or fail to conduct) business due to extreme political polarization. We view this in our daily news and other media. We exhibit this with road rage in heavy traffic. We are an emotionally charged, often violent, and revengeful society. We seem to act with little forethought or regards of the consequences of our actions or whether there is a better way of resolving the conflict. We seem to see things only through our own eyes without thought that perhaps there is another valid point of view. We almost never stop to consider whether we might be wrong.
I feel our ‘eye for an eye‘ mentality blind-sights us of any possibility that perhaps there is a very valid reason for the actions of others. Perhaps there is a root cause why we have been offended or perhaps it is only our perception. Had we solved the root problem or realized that this was only our perception such offences may have been avoided altogether. I have a feeling that had Christ been alive today he would have responded far differently to our measured or unmeasured response to many offenses and crimes happening daily. I believe we resemble far too much the Jewish people portrayed by Christians over 2000 years ago but we simply do not recognize it in ourselves today as the Jews did not over 2000 years ago. Of course I am speaking from a Christian vantage point.
We seem the antipathies of love, forgiveness, compassion, turn the other cheek, and grace that we know should be our virtues. We far too rarely ‘do unto others as we would have them do unto us’ and far too often ‘do unto others as we wished they had not done unto us’. Though I am not a Christian I do very much subscribe to the fundamental Values of love, compassion, forgiveness, and charity. We seek too much revenge and punishment and do too little understanding to solve root causes. We use too much of our caveman response of fight or flight and too little of our tremendous intellect to solve problems. We have evolved way beyond the caveman in knowledge and civilization yet we still lack the wisdom to act civilized and still respond like cavemen. It’s time we start using that grey matter that we have been generously endowed with and put it to better use.
We need to reflect upon past results to see if we have been successful at solving similar problems in the past. What I mean by solving a problem is preventing the reoccurrences of an undesirable effect. If history keeps repeating itself then the fundamental problem has not been solved. Rational Peace is much preferred over vengeful War, Love far better than Hate or Retribution. Why not make a paradigm shift by taking a more positive and rationally approach? Instead of getting revenge on an offender we instead think how we can turn this around into a win-win scenario. Often people try to provoke you into rage but if you are not provoked they simply don’t know how to respond and give up. It is much harder to forgive and love than to seek revenge and hate. Yet it makes you the better person if you are the good giver rather than the revenge taker.
Stop trying to find rules by which to conduct your life and instead be guided by the goodness of your heart. The Jewish at the time of Christ conducted their lives according to a book of rules. Christ taught that you should conduct your life through the love in your hear not from a book of rules. Rule based morality is called legalistic morality because rules dictate conduct rather than the goodness in your heart. You will likely be judged not by what you do but by what is in your heart. Let the goodness in your heart govern your actions.
I struggle daily to follow my own advice. I am a product of my environment and have a tendency to respond like a caveman. But I try my best to be as rational and compassionate as I can. It is far from being easy and requires swallowing my ego and being conscious and responsible for what I do. But it makes me feel better in the end. I feel that if we as a society put as much effort, resources, and money doing good and expressing compassion and love in this world as we do in declaring war and doing death and destruction to others we will find ourselves making far more friends and infinitely fewer enemies. It is better to build bridges than to destroy them. Let everyone become a winner. We simply have to put our minds and hearts together to find ways to build relationships instead of destroying them. It is far more lasting and sustainable than the alternative which we seem to be most adept at doing. It is so easy for us to regress back into our cavemen mentality, but we have progressed so far in our understanding of good and evil that we should make good use of this knowledge. Why not be good when it is hardest instead of doing evil when it is so easy? Because good is far more rewarding and long lasting.
There are no books of rules for being good. Good comes from the goodness of the heart as much as hatred comes from the evil in our minds. Goodness is the feeling of love; the selfless expression of giving of oneself; of compassion for others, especially those less fortunate than we; the forgiveness of transgressions from others; of being a good steward; of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you (The Golden Rule). The test of goodness is to love the most unlovable person you can think of. It’s that simple yet so very difficult because of the lack of practice.
Frank, Good article. I notice your ongoing fixation on the “Christian ethic”..what do you think is your fundamental belief and value system outside of the predominant Judeo-Christian one in our nation. I, for example, think of my own value system as based on my upbringing by Chinese immigrant parents (Confucian Cantonese), my baptised Christian practices, my being a ‘good’ US citizen, and my ongoing hope for a peaceful and just world. Because of this I have been working on supporting the work of the United Nations thru the UNA-USA. Thanks for joining in this shared hope for a peaceful and just world.
Hi Silicon Valley Sam. I applaud your involvement in environmental and social justice issues to bring more harmony in this chaotic world. You and I really share far more in our interests in social justice and environmental issues than we have differences in beliefs. Man has such a fantastic gift, the brain for the future, yet still uses it much as he did as a caveman. What a waste!
I am also a product of my upbringing in an Asian family growing up in America with a strong Protestant family influence and having gone to a Catholic high school. Though I am no longer a Christian I still have many strong Christian values. I have nothing against Christianity. I do resent Christians who impose their beliefs upon me. I believe Christians should live their beliefs without judging me for not believing as they do and not impose law that try to force me and others to conform to their values or preach to me how good their religion is. This is supposed to be a country free for all to believe as they wish. Let God do the judgment. Christians should not prohibit people from sinning. God gave us the freedom to sin and not to sin. Christians should practice more love and less ‘an eye for an eye’ in their lives and in our society and government.
I am sure that the basic morals of most people go back further than 2,000 years. Indeed probably further than ancient Chinese wisdom.
Universal goodness such as the Golden Rule probably developed soon after man learned the art of language. Unfortunately so likely did evil and vengeance: “An eye for and eye”.
Pingback: Capital Punishment | ouR Social Conscience