Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Wisely: Idealism Needs Wisdom

My wife and I met with University of Pennsylvania student “Occupiers.” We stood in a circle and offered our opinions. I was really impressed at how well they listened and how respectful they were to each other as they offered their disparate comments about the present economic crisis.

Some of the comments were so sophisticated and involved that I struggled to wrap my mind around them. However, they were all united in their idealism. They felt assured that they could make a difference. Meanwhile, I felt almost like a saboteur in their optimistic presence as I tried to hijack the conversation, perhaps illegitimately, in the direction that I thought more productive – Jesus:

“Don’t you think that whatever system we might put in place would be undermined by moral relativism? If morality is just subjective and therefore governed by our immediate and pragmatic concerns, don’t you think that even the best system would become corrupt?” I baited my hook and waited for any bites.

“I don’t think that we need moral absolutes,” several responded. They mentioned the ethical systems of Kant, Plato and Aristotle. They didn’t mention Jesus, but I was still thrilled. My stealth worm had attracted some fish, even though I felt somewhat guilty about my “subversive agenda.”

A professor, who seemed to serve as an advisor for the group, tried to bring the conversation back on-track: “It doesn’t matter whether or not we come from different religious and philosophical places. We can still work together on the basic problems of the economy.”

However, it seemed that many of our present economic woes resulted directly from greed and cunning. Don’t such problems require a re-examination of our basic moral foundations? If we believe that morality is nothing more than our own arbitrary and changing decisions, how can we be expected to act in morally responsible ways? Why should we conduct ourselves with integrity if integrity is just an illusion?

I was reminded of a recent survey of college students. They were asked if they might indulge in rape if they were absolutely sure that they wouldn’t get caught. An astounding 60% admitted that they would!

How shocking! We are little more than beasts. If we are willing to violate another human being, why shouldn’t we also be willing to violate an impersonal system? There are no regulations – no monitoring agencies, no governing bodies – that can contain our lusts. Therefore, the ultimate solution must come from within and not from without. We must first be born again! In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is described this way:

• I [God] will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Without the change of heart, there can be no meaningful change in attitudes and behaviors. There are certain things that all of the policemen and armies in the world cannot effectively address – the perversions of the heart.

We regarded it as such a privilege and a blessing to go with two of the student “occupiers” to a café after the hours we spent with them in the circle of conversation. Perhaps they saw in me a fellow “subversive.”

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