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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mayor, Morality and Pontius Pilate...

Pontius Pilate...
“The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.” -- Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

Somebody should have told Pontius Pilate!

As some of you know, in my day job (which my wife would argue is my only job, since I spend too much time on the couch when I'm home!),  I work as a news editorial manager at a local television station, where, among other things, I help shape the content of our newscasts. 

For the past several months, we have invited different "newsmakers" to our newsroom to meet the staff and talk about relevant issues that they deal with in their respective fields.

We recently had a local mayor at our station, who shared his perspectives on what it's like to govern a large and complex government body and some of the challenges he faces in doing so.

At one point, the mayor was asked about the moral and legal dichotomy of dealing with entities and businesses, who may be circumventing the law through shady operations but are legally allowed to bid and attain government contracts.

The mayor thought for a minute and then made a curious statement.  He said, "What is moral is subject to debate but what is legal is not." 

I noticed an awestruck reaction by a couple of our staffers, including one who asked him to repeat it so he could write it down.

I too wrote it down but it was for a different reason.  There was something innately wrong with his claim but I couldn't quite place it right away.  I spent the remainder of the meeting wrestling with the answer.

It soon came to me.  It was laced with a sense of moral relativism that has become all too familiar in the mindset of many in our society.

Pope Benedict once wrote, "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one's own ego and desire."

I'm not suggesting the mayor was being egocentric but his answer seems to indicate the prevailing influence of the culture, which promotes that one man's truth is equal to that of another when it comes to morality and everyone decides on that morality, according to their personal perspective on life.   

These really tick me off...
It's like the old "coexist" bumper stickers you see on cars, which basically says there is no absolute truth and each person's religion is the same as any other.

Now, if morality is debatable then so is right and wrong, good and evil, and fair and unfair.

Moreover, as I told a co-worker who agreed with the mayor, if morality is open to debate, and trumped by the rule of law, then the Nazis rounding up the Jews in Hitler's Germany and putting them to death in concentration camps was totally acceptable, since it was legal, as would be the capture, imprisonment and trade of black males, rounded up in Africa and sold as slaves in the U.S.

Or how about starvation of millions for the "common good," as Stalin did in Russia, or rape, murder and torture; are these also moraly debatable?

Most of us would agree, no matter what side of the political spectrum we call home or faith background, that there are definite truths that transcend personal opinion.

Pilate himself wrestled with this moral dilemma when he asked, "What is truth?," as he considered the fate of an innocent man, whose enemies wanted crucified.

Furthermore, even if morality were debatable, there would have to be a definite moral standard or truth that we could all agree on, or what would be the purpose of debating in the first place?

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Quarreling (aka debating) means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.  And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football."

Therefore, despite the mayor's catchy quote, which captured the imagination of many in the room, morality is not debatable and trying to justify one's actions by it's legal implications or pressure being applied is like Pontius Pilate washing his hands and letting the innocent man die because of the unruly crowd. 

Fulton Sheen said it best, "Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right."...


Howard said...

Someone should have asked if he wanted to be quoted saying that it is subject to debate whether or not what Rosa Parks did was moral, but it is not subject to debate that it was illegal.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Great observation, Howard.

Rosa Parks is a perfect example of standing up (or sitting in her case) for what is morally right, despite the consequences.

It reminds me of St. Thomas More, who once said, "I am the king's loyal servant but God's first."


Drew Pawley said...

I trust you are open to dialogue not only about the primary point you raise, but also about the material you bring into the argument. Therefore I would like to confer with you over the interpretation you assign to the COEXIST sticker.
The gift of life is precious and this is readily understood. Moreover the gift of life bestowed upon another person will be accorded my respect. I would ask that this respect be mutual and when it is, we share a situation of coexistence. This vital point affords us with the secure foothold, which becomes our point of departure on our journey of probing and challenging beliefs outside of ourselves and our immediate experience. Through this process, we also explore ourselves and work our way closer to truths which are attainable to humankind.
Coexistence is not the end: not a destination. Yet it is a humble and vital early step. It affords us life in a manner that life is lacking in conflict which does not accept the gift of life outside oneself.

Coexistence is not to be is life, though it can not be " life to the fullest" as Christ came to bring it.
I would ask you to reconsider what you have stated and implied about coexistence. I would suggest that the interpretation you bring to the term used as a bumper sticker slogan is not a rewarding one.

Carlos Espinosa said...


I agree that we need to have a certain respect for one another's perspectives on faith but I do not agree that we have to accept every other point of view as "truth," according to the believer.

There is only one truth, and for me, it's as Jesus said to Pilate, "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

Truth is never changing because God is Truth.

It was the same truth during the time of Jesus. It is the same truth today and it will be the same truth tomorrow.

To say "coexist," in the context of religion, as the bumper sticker purports to do, is to say there is no one truth but your truth is yours and my truth is mine.

I totally disagree with that concept.

Thank you for sharing your input, however...