"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports." -- G. Washington
"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." -- Benjamin Franklin
"There are not enough morally brave men in stock. We are out of moral courage material; we are in a condition of profound poverty." -- Mark Twain in "The United States of Lyncherdom"
"Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." -- Paul, the apostle in Philippians 2:3-7 (RSV).
Over the past few years the United Kingdom has passed laws restricting the sale of knives online. It has also passed laws banning the carrying of all but the smallest of pocket knives in public. This is in response to a dramatic increase in violence (mass violence) done with knives. You know where this is going ... so ... never mind.
The truth is that human beings and our societies have always been morally challenged. Having acknowledged this let me share a few thoughts concerning our current challenges with violence of all kinds today using the four quotes as a template.
I will be the first to admit, as a Christian, that practice has not lived up to the ideal. But because practitioners fail -- often the result of culture and society -- does not mean the ideal is wrong. We have not thrown out education, or medicine, or government because of poor practices in the past. And societal morality is not always the best guide, but if tugged on by the ideal of religion it should not be ignored or discarded. Religion and morality will always be wanting, but we should still strive for the ideal rather than eviscerating and undermining it.
I recently read a summary of a study by The African Centre for Economic Growth that demonstrated yet again the link between corruption and poverty. This is not new information. It is a fact that where there is extensive poverty there is also corruption. In defining corruption, the authors state, "It is not ... useful to make qualitative distinctions between corruption in various parts of the world. It ... means the same thing: the abuse of public office for private gain." Corruption along with the necessity of laws to govern the viciousness we unleash on each other will continue to produce a toxic environment as those making the rules continue to profit socially and economically from others' bad behavior. They become leeches sucking the life and imagination for better solutions out of the very communities they claim to want to help.
The third quote from Mark Twain is especially interesting. He wrote it in 1901 in response to a murderous outbreak in Pierce City, Missouri. However, he never published it because he said, "I shouldn't have half a friend left down there..." It was not published until 1923, 13 years after his death. Still, I believe his quote resonates with our current society. Part of moral courage is understanding that those proposing solutions to "fix" those who are the problem often contribute more to the unhealthy environment than those who break the law. (See "war on drugs" and incarceration and felony charges rather than rehabilitation.)
The last quote is from the letter to the Philippians from the apostle Paul in the New Testament. I believe here we can find solutions if we can only find people courageous enough to live it. Looking after the interests of others is a challenge. Not grasping with a death clench the power and position we have (in the case of Jesus it was equality with God) is a rare trait indeed for those who have either been born to power or who have worked hard to attain it. But it is what we need. That attitude along with humility would take us far.
We must stop believing that "other people" are the problem -- they rarely are. We cannot hire enough experts or pass enough laws or protest enough or hire enough law enforcement or build enough walls or locate enough mentally ill to fix this. We can stop rewarding those we elect to represent us who get us riled up and blame others by finding people who will face the truth, follow the money, do the research, and look to the interests of all and put them in office. We can stop watching news shows that confirm our biases and reward those that present balance and reason (if there are any left). If we want change, we must be the ones to change.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.