Monday, October 30, 2006

Miserere Nobis ...

In a society where the highest moral principle is the refusal to make moral judgments and where the quintessential moral gesture is not pharisaical righteousness but rather an indifferent shrug: a frightened young woman lets a Planned Parenthood worker talk her into an abortion; the man who got her pregnant loses interest and disappears; a young African, adopting the moral nihilism of the condom distribution program that has compounded his despair and self-loathing, knowingly exposes his sexual partner to Hepatitis C; a corporate executive takes a short-cut, exposing thousands of investors to economic ruin.

Meanwhile, those who by the sheer grace of God have avoided these things take far more credit for their rectitude than is justifiable, it having been due largely to the accidents of upbringing and opportunity. The conservative among them insist on the immorality of those who do such things; the liberals (except in the case of the corporate executive) blame the “society.”

But Raymund Schwager saw the larger moral picture:
Sins, especially serious and conscious ones, begin in the depths of the heart and they often have a long prehistory, in which many people bear different amounts of responsibility and in which it often depends on accidental circumstances as to whether things get as far as an outward, punishable deed and who commits it.
The indifferent shrug is fostered by Christian sentimentalists who, with the best of motives, perpetuate the idea that God’s mercy completely supersedes God’s justice. Here’s what the Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz had to say about that:
Religion, opium for the people. … A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murder we are not going to be judged.
A Christian will recognize his own subtle contributory complicity without exonerating the individual who commits the moral offense, for to do that would be to discourage him from taking moral responsibility for his acts, and thereby to deprive him of perhaps the last shred of his moral dignity. Here’s how Max Scheler puts it:
... it is very superficial to say that one should rest content with “not judging” the guilt of others but rather be mindful of one’s own individual guilt. ... one should not only be mindful of one’s own guilt but feel oneself genuinely implicated in the guilt of others and in the collective guilt of one’s age; one should therefore regard such guilt as one’s “own,” and share in the repenting of it. That is the true sense of the mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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