Friday, March 2, 2012

Blame Shifting in Light of Morals and Responsibility

In The Simpsons episode "Trash of the Titans" Homer decides to run for Sanitation Commissioner, based on the mantra, "Can't someone else do it?"  For Homer, the ultimate satisfaction in life is having someone else do something for him, including taking out the trash, a conclusion he came to following a bitter fight with the Springfield trash service.  The worst part was when the sun hit Diaper Hill of course.

The problem with what Homer believed was that there was no responsibility or reliability in his life.  Sure, he wanted someone else to take out his trash, but how did that help Homer as a person?  It may not have been immoral for him to shirk his responsibility of taking out the trash (surely Bart could do it), but it was a symptom of an underlying problem: the misuse of free will.

We have this wonderful gift of free will, which does not give us the freedom to do what we want.  It is the ability to choose the good.  Uncle Ben would tell us that with great power comes great responsibility, and there is no greater power than free will.  The responsibility of free will, however, is the issue at hand.

And therein lies the rub.  We want free will, but we don't want to accept the consequences of our actions.  We want to do whatever we want, and we don't want there to be anything that comes of it, either good or bad.  Everyone thinks of the bad that comes from a decision, but what about the good?

In Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was presented with a choice.  He was asked to become Hand of the King, the second in command.  Sure, he could have said no, stayed at home and lived his life, even as wars are being threatened and the world is falling apart around him.  That would have been the easy thing to do.  Instead, he left Winterfell, served as the moral compass to the king, made the right choices for the people, and eventually died for it.  It wasn't easy for him to leave his home, but it was necessary, because Ned is a good man, and he knew the kingdoms needed a good man in charge.

Don Draper, the main character of Mad Men, repeatedly makes decisions based on a life that he wants to lead, rather than a life that he leads.  As the head of an advertising agency in New York, he is in charge of convincing consumers that they need his product.  It doesn't matter if they want his project, he makes them believe that they need his product.  He is very good at his job; however his family life suffers.  He sleeps with other women, he lies to his family, and he is only there for his children when it's convenient for him.  Don Draper chose the life of a husband and father, but he did not accept the responsibility that comes with it.

Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned meth cook of Breaking Bad fame is a little different.  He accepted the life of a family man, raising his son and loving his wife, succeeding as a high school teacher, but ultimately, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Knowing that he was going to die shortly, and knowing that he needed to provide for his family, chose to provide for his family, to ensure that they would be taken care of.  However, he chose to do so my cooking meth and joining the lucrative business of drug production.  His heart in the right place, he neglected his soul for the sake of his family's well-being.  He made a decision based on his family, but forgot about the community and God's people in the process.

Admiral William Adama did not turn to anyone else to save the Colonies and its remnants after the Cylon attack.  He knew that he could save everyone, he knew they needed a leader, and they needed hope, that theological virtue that allows us to live our life with the belief that something better is coming.  Bill Adama did not deflect responsibility, made decisions, and saved almost 47,000 people.  When things went wrong, he took the blame.  When they went right, he credited others.  Along with Optimus Prime, he might be the best example of a leader in the history of television.

It is incredibly easy to blame others.  We don't want to be responsible for failure, and we don't want others to think that we are responsible.  So we follow Homer's example, and say, "Can't someone else do it?"  But that does not lead to virtue, this does not lead to honor.  We would live our lives as if someone is going to blame us, so we blame everyone else.

It has become the way of the world.  Society doesn't want to be honorable, it wants to be not dishonorable.  Not doing bad has become more important than doing good, and believe me, there is a big difference.  The former involves courage in making a decision and taking responsibility if it fails.  The latter involves living our life avoiding the possibility of failure, but at the same time not giving yourself a chance to succeed.

The most significant event to happen to our world was the crucifixion of Christ.  This one event made it possible for all men to be saved, to enjoy a life with God in heaven.  He did not have to do this.  That's the beauty of Jesus, he had free will because he was fully man, and so anything he did in life carried with it that much more significance.  He did not have to suffer and die for us.  He did not have to gain for us salvation.

But he did.

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