Friday, March 11, 2011

It May Be Immoral, but We've Still Gotta Do It

Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved. (Rom 3:8)

In our rebellion against God we tend to ask why bad things happen to good people, as though anyone but God were truly good (Mark 10:18). Maybe we should be asking why it is that good people do bad things. Me, for instance: I've earned a certain amount of respect from my peers, so I have some good traits (my wife even likes me), so I have to ask why I have done so many creepy things.

But I'm not alone. How is it that people who are to an impartial observer honest, generous, and sincerely concerned with the glory of God and the good of their neighbors can say in one sentence that a given action is immoral and in the next say it has to be done? I don't know for sure if people do this in other areas, but I have certainly seen it in regards to government policy, and I consider it a natural by-product of the idea that the institution of government makes some people immune to the personal responsibility the governed have to live under.

Here are highly redacted (and so probably slanted) reconstructions of exchanges I have had recently:

They: I hate it when people blame the US for everything.
I: US sanctions single-handedly killed 500,000 Iraqi civilians in the 1990s.
They: Did not!
I: Did too! When Madeleine Albright was asked about those deaths on 60 Minutes, she didn't deny responsibilty; she said, "It was a tough decision, but we think it was worth it." She would know what was going on. Those civilians died because we had no-fly zones and prevented the importation of medicines and equipment for Saddam to rebuild the infrastructure we destroyed in Desert Storm.
They: That's not our fault. We told Saddam he could sell his oil and help his people. He sold the oil on the black market and kept the money.
I: We also gave him the materiel he used to kill his own subjects before Desert Storm.
They: That's not our fault. We gave it to him to use against Iran.

Note their principle here: We gave him the materiel to do X, so we're not responsible for the deaths he caused when he used it to do Y. In other words, even though we knew he was a thug, we provided the opportunity for him to kill those we wanted killed, but when he used that materiel to kill people we're all of a sudden indignant that he killed (I remember no kerfluffle about it at the time), we're not responsible for the evil he did.

I: We should never have gone into Iraq.
They: Correct, but that's a moot point. We did go in. And now we need to stay or the people there will kill each other.

So we're not responsible for Saddam's evil even though we gave him the wherewithal to commit it and didn't complain when he did do it. But if we leave Iraq, the people will kill each other even if we don't give them any materiel, and somehow we'll be responsible, so it's just humanitarian concern that keeps us there, even though it was immoral for us to go there to begin with. It seems to me if we're responsible if we leave, we'd have been responsible for what Saddam did with the goodies we gave him; if we're not responsible for one, we're not responsible for the other.

Certainly nothing about withdrawing the military would prevent brigades of unarmed Christians from going there to stand between the warring factions and offering to arbitrate. They'd probably have to be Chinese, North Korean, African, or from south of the Rio Grande—we're too broke from the wars to send out more missionaries, and US citizens would have a rather large credibility problem there—but I'd jump at the chance to join them.

They: It's wrong for the government to run up debts and expect our children and grandchildren to pay them.
I: Like Social Security?
They: Yes.
I: Was Social Security ever moral?
They: No.
I: If we did away with Social Security and Medicare, . . .
They: That would be wrong. People depend on those programs.
I: If someone became dependent on a Mafia don and we put the don out of business, would we be doing wrong to the people who depended on him?
They: That's different. What Mafia dons do is illegal.
I: But you said that Social Security is immoral.
They: Yes, but it was legal.

There you have it. If government does it, even if it's immoral, it's OK to keep it going because it's legal. And even if the injustice against the innocent increases every day we continue the immorality, we can't stop—we dare not face God for having stopped—committing the immorality because the people who benefit from the injustice might suffer.

I know my heart is deceitful above all things and so desperately wicked that I can't know it, and I've done worse things than believing the ideas espoused by my sparring partners, but is this really God's truth? Am I really nuts to think that continuing to kill innocent people overseas and rob innocent people at home hurts our chances of being believed when we present the gospel?

(Actually, supporting the status quo probably does improve our chances of being believed by others who support it. Maybe Moses David Berg's Children of God were on to something when they were engaging in "evangelistic" sex.)

I can identify with at least the title of Bach's famous chorale "Komm, Süsser Tod [Come, Sweet Death]." If I'm right in thinking that one component of a believable gospel witness is leaving our targets alone to live their lives in peace and that coercion should only be used in response to violence, and then only as much as necessary to prevent its recurrence (including the death penalty for murder), then I'm ready to leave a world in which most people consider it their holy duty to force innocent people to suffer injustice. And if I'm wrong, I see no way in this world I'll be convinced of the truth; I might as well go Home and take my medicine.

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