Saturday, October 1, 2011

Avoid Evil, or Do Good?

Sometimes we don’t learn the lessons of life as we should because they pass by so quickly, and we just are not paying attention. We so easily fit ourselves into this world of soundbites, and don’t stop to think, but just react. You can never grow in holiness, nor in wisdom, if you do not take time to stop and think, yet I believe few of us do. Time just spent in quiet, thinking, is so valuable.

The other day as I chatted briefly with the woman waiting on me at the coffee shop, she mentioned how she and her daughter were so proud of her grandchild, who came home from pre-school every day this past week with stars --- for not touching anyone. In previous weeks the child had been chastised, and even had a note sent home, because he had touched the other children. In the class, the woman explained, the 4-year old children are taught to respect another child’s space. And she thought this was a good thing.

I asked her how “Love Your Neighbor" could be taught in such an atmosphere. She responded: “Oh, they can’t mention religion or the ten commandments in school. That might be disrespecting some other child’s religion.”

Yes, it might, indeed.

I was much inclined to quickly conclude the conversation with a soundbite, and so I did: “Well I think that’s wrong, and your grandchild will be the worse for that type of education.” And I went on my way, coffee in hand. But later, I took time to think.

I thought it ironic that while teaching children to avoid the ten commandments, this lesson of “not touching” is teaching them to avoid evil. This lesson is made to sound like a good thing to the children and their parents: “Don’t touch anyone,” because it might turn out to be an evil thing. So if they are crying, you can’t hug them. If they are alone, you can’t hold their hand. It “might” be an evil thing.

This would almost be a funny thing (cue the laugh soundtrack) if this were not so sad. For such an over-sexualized culture, we’re teaching 4-year olds to avoid anything which might be construed as sexual, while we’re teaching 5-year olds in the same schools how to put on condoms. We teach “Avoid Evil,” even as we constantly change the definition of evil, so everyone becomes confused about evil, and what we should do about it. And of course the result is that we do nothing about evil.

And I wonder who is happy with that outcome?

In the adult world we see this “Avoid Evil” mindset carried out by many well-meaning individuals on a variety of topics. My favorite example are the environmental activists. The “Green” movement views as evil many things which could harm some individuals, or perhaps some animals, or even “mother” earth. This past week, for example, an oil company was sued by the federal government for the killing of a single bird as a result of its drilling process, and the bird itself was not on any endangered species list. But for many, the act of drilling for oil is an evil to be avoided, because it “might” result in hurting someone or something. Using this same mindset, I assume automakers, roadbuilders, and appliance makers could be sued also, because someone “might” die as a result of their products. And perhaps you could be sued also, because you “might” injure someone on your way to work.

And this is the mindset we are teaching our children: avoid evil, or even the possibility of evil. Is no one thinking anymore?

The only absolute way to avoid all evil, or all potential evil, is to do nothing. Eliminate all mankind and no man can do evil --- and there are some who even espouse this radical belief. Among some seemingly rational beings the issue is being categorized as one of priorities: Which is more important, to avoid evil or to do good? They would have you believe that first avoiding evil is necessary before you can do good, and so therefore it deserves the higher focus. They might even point to the commandments, the “Thou Shalt Not’s” as a justification for their beliefs.

But I believe they are wrong in their focus, and in their interpretations of even the commandments. All of the Old Testament tells us of a Jewish people growing in holiness. In the youth of their relationship with God, like children they were told what to do, and God, like a parent protected them --- and sometimes had to punish them. The Ten Commandments are firm laws on how they should behave. But as their relationship with God grew, a new covenant was made with them. Jesus came, and summarized the commandments as “Love God, and Love Your Neighbor.” There was no more specific “Thou Shalt Not’s”; they were replaced with what we should do, and the life of Jesus showed us how we should do those things, and why.

Jesus showed us that focusing on “Do Good” is much more important than trying to avoid evil. If we focus on knowing what good is, on growing in holiness, by knowing about Him and His life and His will, we need not worry about evil. Jesus lived among and talked with those deemed evil in His day; He didn’t avoid them. He didn’t worry about the poor, but rather said they’d be with us always. Evil will be with us always also.

And as some who do evil proudly admit: “It’s my choice.”

But we, followers of Jesus and His teachings must act as we say we believe: in Him, and in His example. And His primary example is about love. Do good toward your neighbor (and for those who need more specificity in this definition: your HUMAN neighbor), and you will be avoiding evil. Relative to the environment, human needs come before animals or dirt --- human NEEDS. And while some might dispute it, I place having a means I can afford of keeping warm in the winter as one of my needs, so I might categorize drilling for oil as a good. And if my neighbor should not be able to have a means of keeping warm, my adhering to the example of Jesus would have me inviting him to stay with me in my home. It’s up to me to love my neighbor, and show it in action.

And if my neighbor is afraid, it’s up to me to give him a hug. (And, fortunately, I guess, no school ever taught me that this was a bad thing.)

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