Killing my conscience

Faith & Inspiration

Looking into myself, I noticed something: If you make everything in society about law and legalities, then you end up killing my conscience. If you set the parameters for me and take it out of my hands entirely so that I won't have to think, then very soon my conscience is on autopilot: I am a moral zombie. The state has done the thinking for me so I'm off the hook.

I live in the state of Pennsylvania, where our idols are presently toppling. Wickedness was being committed behind closed doors, and those who knew and didn't sound an alarm considered themselves on the safe side of the law. The first guy who saw the crime told his immediate superior (that's all he was legally required to do). That guy reported it to his superior (that's all he was legally required to do). And so on up the chain.

There are "Good Samaritan" laws in many Western countries (whose legal systems have evolved from English common law) designed to reduce the hesitation of a bystander from intervening in a crisis by protecting him or her from possible lawsuits. This is tacit acknowledgment of the moral paralysis inducible by an overly litigious culture.

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At times like this I always like to reread Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Harvard commencement address of 1978. The grads expected warm fuzzies and got an Old Testament prophet. He looked at the West and saw "depression, passivity, and perplexity" in a civilization that had taken a legalistic turn at the fork of the road a few centuries earlier:

"A society with no other scale but the legal one is … less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses."

What can we do about it? The Russian author and survivor of the Gulags suggested a return to God:

"Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition. … [I]t will be simply impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the supports of a legalistic structure" ("A World Split Apart").
Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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