Spirituality for Today – July 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 12

The Clear

By Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

Photo of Marion JonesHow must it feel to surrender to the Olympic Committee five Olympic medals (three gold medals and two bronze) that you had won? How must it feel to stand before the world's media and confess that you had committed an act of betrayal to your sport and to your fans? Marion Jones, darling of the track and field world, had to do just that. She admitted to taking steroids, in particular, a substance known as "the clear." The president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Peter Ueberroth said, "...she has cheated her sport, her country, and herself." Regretfully, she returned the medals that she had won at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She hoped that they would be bestowed on the athletes who deserved them. Not long before, Marion Jones stood tearfully and remorsefully before the cameras and microphones of the global news outlets and took full responsibility for her actions.

This young woman did something astonishing: she took full responsibility for what she had done. She accepted all of the ridicule and humiliation that would be heaped upon her. Without excusing her fraudulent deeds and lengthy silence, she did perform a courageous act. The prevailing modus operandi of the past few decades is the antithesis of such a stand. The recommended posture would be to deny the accusation, to become indignant over the allegations of wrong doing, and to turn the blame on the accusers. After seven years of doubt and struggle, Marion Jones could not abide by popular opinion. In Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch states, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." There is one young woman who personifies that statement and at least in this one aspect of her life she has become a winner.

The post-Eden experience of humankind is marked by the tug-of-war between virtue and vice. The libraries of the world have many shelves filled with the stories of that struggle. The character of America's superheroes possesses the highest of virtues and that of its villains the lowest of vices. In reality, the distinctions become a bit fuzzy. Those who achieve excellence in their particular field of endeavor are afforded celebrity status. If their grand accomplishments are tarnished by the discovery that they were attained through fraud, deceit, or ruthlessness, the guilty individuals suffer a precipitous fall from grace – but not always. Some media figures often enhance their celebrity status through outrageous behavior. While under a dark cloud of suspicion, some athletes set new records in their sport risking little more than an asterisk by their names in the record hooks. The lingering question is how the fame of those men and women, garnered through those moot achievements, will affect the moral standards of the populace?

Our feisty twenty-sixth president Theodore Roosevelt spoke with characteristic clarity on the topic: "Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood— the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life."

Virtue or vice – which of these will be the ultimate victor in one's heart'? For every person, the object of his or her worship will determine the answer. Observe where the heart and soul and mind and strength rest, there is the essence of the person, there is the motivation of that person's life. Much can be concluded about the fruits of people's lives if the countenance of their "god" stares back at them in the mirror or if the presence of the true God inspires them within their souls. Self-centeredness has a numbing effect on the conscience; God-centeredness has a stimulating effect. The conscience occupies a very small space and plays a meager role in the thought processes of self-absorbed people. Self-interest is the center of their universe. Thus, any strategy employed in personal and business relationships that is beneficial to achieving their desires is acceptable. The use of lies, deceit, and exploitation are of equal value to truth, honesty, and fairness. Contrarily, men and women of faith understand their lives as a gift from God and that they are accountable for the proper use of that gift. They wish to utilize a conscience soaked in virtue. Their frailties and missteps notwithstanding, the inclination of their hearts is to return to righteous behavior. One may speak gainfully concerning ideas of humanity, justice, and the common good to such as these. The difference between these two types of people is fundamental and the resultant effects are antithetical.

If the spirit and the character of America are to be seen as benign and God-fearing by a skeptical world, Americans, in conscience, must be determined to stand on high moral ground and also, in duty, must be willing to accept reproach when deserved. This challenge ought not to be dismissed as childish idealism, but must be affirmed as a realistic goal attainable to whatever degree our abilities can achieve. Although as human beings we wade through obscurities and inconsistencies of behavior, the point of maintaining a sound conscience must be perfectly... clear.