“We know it’s wrong to cheat, lie, steal or wound, and yet hardly a day passes in which most of us don’t commit at least one of these transgressions on some scale,” says a recent book review by Jabari Asim, but it really hit me. First of all, I don’t do any of those things on a near daily basis because, in fact, I do know them to be wrong. Second, I suspect that people who really do know they are wrong generally avoid doing them, too. So, what is wrong with that statement?
Sadly, we live in a time and culture where many people do cheat, lie, steal, and wound. What is strange, I think, is that anybody still calls them transgressions, violations of a universal standard. Not so long ago, every teacher taught that cheating was wrong, and student cheating was guaranteed trouble. Today, even teachers and schools cheat, to say nothing of the students. In fact, deception by students, at all levels, researchers, organizations, media, and government agencies is so bad that wise people regard everything with a certain degree of skepticism. Many cheat on their taxes, in their business, and on their partners and spouses. So does anyone still think that cheating is wrong?
Besides cheating, people lie about everything—their age, education, and experience. Salesmen lie about their products, and politicians lie so much that an honest politician is an oxymoron. I suspect honesty is nearly an archaic virtue, even though no one likes to be lied to. Stealing is still against the law just about everywhere, but theft is widespread. Thieves have broken into both my house and car, and nobody likes that. Workers steal from their employers and blame the employers. Is it any surprise, then, that the transgression of “wounding” is also common? The most basic transgression is ignoring the Golden Rule. That is what makes cheating and lying so painful. Both are fundamental violations of trust that hurt, especially when family or friends fail to be honest. Victims of theft often describe feelings of violation; it hurts to have you home or privacy invaded.
The problem is two-fold: most people don’t accept the authority of law and don’t really care about hurting others. For several decades, many have come to scorn the idea of absolute truth at the encouragement of those who hate the very idea of God and authority of any kind. Without ultimate authority to define absolute right and wrong, there is nothing to transgress. Everything rests on personal opinion. Officially called “postmodernism, “truth is relative” is the typical phrase. With no way to determine or verify truth, then untruth is also meaningless. In such an environment, what does it mean not to tell the truth?
When people first began saying there were no absolutes and that truth was relative, it was simply intellectual, but gradually the concepts penetrated Western culture. Today we see it in disrespect for institutions from churches to schools to government, for laws and those who enforce them, for the military even when they are defending the very freedoms that allow people to show such disrespect. The idea of no absolutes threatens the very institutions of marriage and family and even the nature of love in personal relationships, despite its importance to everyone. Without any higher authority or commitment, self-centeredness replaces genuine love and concern for others, which is why so many are able to “wound” other people.
The bottom line is that most people really don’t believe it’s wrong for them to lie, cheat, steal, or wound, but they don’t want others to cheat them, lie to them, steal from, or hurt them. People have generally adopted a completely self-centered system of values, even though they still say they believe these things are wrong. Since they accept no real authority over themselves, they cannot transgress anything except their own choice of values, which they may change whenever and for whatever reason they want, usually without really thinking about what they’re doing.
Political correctness seems to belie the rejection of absolutes. This system appears to be a new set of values to which its adherents give allegiance. It is; instead it’s an ideological tool, used. to control people, while excusing its supporters. A good example comes out of the same article.
The reviewer mentions the struggle of black characters with racism, despite their success and accomplishments. One husband and wife are university leaders, yet they fear the police will look at them more closely for their skin color, despite their success and status. Another reviewer, in fact, focuses on the issue of racism in the book, which is a mystery. However, by the standards of political correctness, only white people can be racists. Only straight people can object to the sexual behavior of others, and only those on the Right can be oppressive or fascist. Political correctness is a one-way lens, a system of rules imposed only on those with traditional values, an approach that allows its supporters to be exempt from its authority.
I still say “sin.” I still believe in absolutes, the ultimate authority of God, and right and wrong by His definition. I am a rarity, even at my age. It’s been 25 years since Karl Menninger wrote, “Whatever Became of Sin?” I am reading Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, and 100 years ago he wrote:
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes.
Today, the fact of sin is no longer a fact to scientists, teachers, or even many Christians, a view that weakens every other aspect of the gospel in which God by the death of Jesus forgives sin.
According to the Bible, sin offends God because His character and word are the standard, not merely of right and wrong, but the very definition of holiness. Because I am in the generation that rejected all authority, I learned to look for an understanding of sin that was interpersonal on the human level, as 6 of the 10 commandments are: Don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, honor your parents, don’t steal, don’t even covet. The other 4 are interpersonal at the divine level. Respect God, don’t worship idols, don’t misuse God’s name(s), and keep the Sabbath, in recognition of His creative and redemptive work, giving thanks and worshipping Him. To my and subsequent generations, it isn’t enough that God says so; that could be nothing more than the powerful imposing his wishes on those less powerful. I have tried to show these commands as the compassion of a wise and loving Creator seeking to help His children live in the most successful way. So I have always taught that sin is personal, that it “wounds” others.
Violating the rules of God’s creation “wounds” those whom people ignore for the sake of selfish choices. Our era and its people have become immune to the harm they cause others; we need to help them understand it. Literature and media nearly drown us in self-centeredness: Find yourself. You’re number one. Do it for yourself. Even the word love has become self-focused, centering on the gratification it gives the lover as opposed to the care the lover shows for the beloved, unconditionally. How else did “making love” become a euphemism for sex? In Matthew 24:12, Jesus says, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” Sadly, we live in those times for precisely that reason. Despite a common, inherent desire to love and be loved, the rejection of authority and law has replaced coldness for real love. It all comes back to the fact that everyone seems to lie, cheat, steal, and wound other people, daily and to the fact that, indeed, very few really believe they are wrong, transgressing, or guilty…or they would act differently.
I have two final questions. First, is the world we live in better without the moral authority that restrains the sins that hurt others and, in the end, hurts us, too, by damaging the relationships that make life worth living? The arguments about absolutes rest ultimately on that. Very few of us explore the evidence, openly hear the testimony, or reason through the ideas about the existence of God. They reject authority much like children disobey their parents…in a fit of small-minded childish pique. They too may reject their parent’s authority and doubt their wisdom, but they do not deny their existence! Given the imperfections and occasional evil of human parents, they may sometimes be correct in their judgment, but often children come to be grateful for their judgment. Children gain a better life from accepting the best of their parents. Do we gain as much by rejecting the wisdom and knowledge of God?
The second question is more personal. Do you cheat, lie, steal, or wound almost every day, even though you know it’s wrong? Break it down. Do you regard these as transgressions? Then they are sins, which you may confess to God who will forgive them. Most of us fall into the trap of doing harm unintentionally, without thinking, by what we call inconsiderately. Do you think about what you do and why? If not, I urge you to “re-consider.” Our culture has changed and not in a good way. To change it for the better will take each of us thinking about these most basic matters. America was once a nation of compassion, but that is changing, too. For many, especially politicians and ideologues, it is little more than rhetoric to gain votes and power. Too much of what we do, as a nation, is losing that heart of compassion, and some have become our enemies as a result. The United States has great wealth and power. With compassion they can bring great blessing to others; without the simple virtues discussed here, wealth and power can be tools for thoughtless, inconsiderate oppression. The final resolution of which we become rests on each of us, not on politicians or media stars or the elites, but on you and me. So, that is the question: What about you?