Spirituality for Today – Summer 2019 – Volume 23, Issue 4

Echoes of Now

Rev. Raymond Petrucci

In 1848, G. Ludlow wrote, "How comes it that trade is too often disguised cheating? Law, chicanery? Medicine, experimental manslaughter? Literature, froth? Politics, a lie? And society, one huge war? Although this statement was published 171 years ago, it easily could appear in an op-ed in tomorrow's news media. What does this similarity say about yesterday, today, and tomorrow? What does it say about human nature?

Considering the sinfulness that threatens to corrupt our motivations and our goals and the enduring influence of the one who seeks to destroy our souls are not the stuff of welcoming the easy days of summer. Yet, every day of every season involves the serious practice of making decisions and weighing circumstances. In the complexity of living as a human being, there, however, are certain simplicities: Words and actions are the product of thoughts and thoughts are influenced by reason and emotion. In deciding which path to follow concerning a particular issue, our minds and hearts may concur and, perhaps, may stand opposed to each other. The faculty known as our "conscience" now takes center stage. The conscience initiates a process of applying moral values to the circumstances presented by the situation at hand. Deciding what to do will depend on what the conscience has to work with in regard to values and whence they come. We should judge that one acting as if without a conscience to be mentally ill. I opine that one possessing a conscience composed of values based on personal desires, impulses, or pragmatic goals devoid of morality based on values higher than the self, values revealed by God, should be judged to be insufficient.

A case in point might be a statement coming from the mid-nineteen century struggle over slavery. History tends to reveal that the Founding Fathers wrestled mightily over the question of slavery. The institution was embedded in the economy of colonial America and, although they saw slavery as abhorrent in principle, it would have to be tolerated for the present out of necessity. New states were entering the Union. Would slavery be allowed in these new entries? Would the inhumane practice grow or be stopped in its tracks? In opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act during the Lincoln and Douglas debates of 1858, Lincoln speaks for the ages: "… if we allow slavery to spread, then the hope of America and all that it means to the whole world will be extinguished." But if we join together, "we shall not only have saved the Union, but we shall have saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of saving." [Source: LEADERSHIP in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin]

Will we have a country "worthy of saving?" As always, the answer to this question depends on the will of the people. That "will," apparently, is going to be affected by a growing percentage of non-religious or non-denominational members of the population. If the will of the people is determined by which side happens to hold sway in a "gang war" of ideologies, I fear for the worthiness of the society that continuing battle will produce.

Solutions might not be readily apparent. I, however, should be loath to leave the situation in a bath of disillusion and despair. It has been said that we should live the way we want the world to be. This goal is not achieved easily either. Somewhere in the "righting of the ship" has to be the development of a dominant strength of will. Earlier, I mentioned the importance of a properly formed conscience. The will depends on this resource and the will is the ignition and the power of change. Mahatama Ghandi spoke of seven deadly sins and, by doing so, also highlighted seven beatitudes: Wealth without Work, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Commerce without Morality, Science without Humanity, Worship without Sacrifice, and Politics without Principle. As with all wise sayings, it would do individuals well to deeply ponder not only words, but also actions.

Throughout human history, good and evil have been the choice of human beings. Progress in righteousness always seems to be an elusive goal. We like to think that civilization is constantly moving forward. When it comes to morality, it is not the case. We have what we need to do, but, the sad truth, is that we do not have the will to do it. Until, by God's grace, we awaken to the sacrifices and efforts we need to make, I am afraid that the future will echo the past. God help us to attain the courage we need.