If you see a seemingly innocent person murdered whom do you blame? The murderer or the person murdered. Or perhaps you blame society, or the economy. Perhaps you blame the gun. Maybe you just blame God.
How you determine culpability says a lot about you.
Primarily it may determine whether or not your moral compass is broken or not.
And what exactly is a moral compass? Just as a navigational compass helps you determine the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) your moral compass helps you determine moral behavior (i.e. Good, Evil, Justice, and Compassion).
If your navigational compass is broken then it will be telling you the wrong direction nearly all the time. You are looking to head North, and your compass says “North”, but since it is broken you eventually realize you were heading Southwest the whole time. A broken navigational compass is frustrating and problematic, but a broke moral compass is tragic.
A broken moral compass confuses whom you vilify and whom you glorify. A broken moral compass can lead you to act compassionate to the cruel, and cruel to the compassionate. Unfortunately, because you are being navigated by a broken moral compass you will have not only no idea your behavior is morally wrong, it will cause you to actually think you are morally correct and so you continue the immoral behavior. Tragic.
I’m sure some are saying, “Okay, but a compass has a North and South pole to work with – objective markers magnetic or otherwise which can be used a reference for the compass. If the navigational compass is broken you can compare it with other indicators (i.e. GPS, constellations, Sun position, other compasses, etc.) to be sure your compass is broken or not. But what about the ‘moral compass’? How do you determine what is good or bad? Who says? And is it an objective truth for everyone?”
Great questions, and I had them myself. The simple answer is God. God is the giver of morality. The God of the Torah teaches us how we are to behave in a moral and just way. God also indicates what is universally immoral and unjust behavior. If you do not have God as the basis of morality, then you have no objective morality… And therefore your moral compass is less likely function properly at all times. Hopefully it will function properly enough so that you yourself don’t act evil in the world, obviously. But it has been my experience that with rare exception, those who do not base their morality on the Judeo based concept of Ethical Monotheism, their ability to morally judge others behavior is tragically skewed. To be clear, I am not implicitly making an argument that all who do see God as the giver of morality act moral and judge morally. No doubt, people can use their freedom of choice to take things out of context, make incorrect inferences, and/or simply be mistaken regardless of their belief in Ethical Monotheism. That said, eliminating God as the sole giver of morality makes it far more difficult for a person to make correct moral judgements.
If my hypothesis is correct, why would that be? Well most people who reject God based objective reality site several reasons and answers to the question… What is moral? Typically the answers range from moral relativism (e.g. What is moral for John is his morality , and what is moral for Mike is his morality. It is all relative, and no one should judge). In the final analysis, moral relativism breaks down to there is no morality. If you were to try this logic in other areas of life it would prove just as problematic. Just because I believe 6=7 and you believe 6=6 doesn’t matter, there is no objective truth on what the number 6 really represents. 6 is 7 for me and 6 is 6 for you, and maybe 6 is 0 for someone else… it is all relative. So in this scenario numerical values do not really exist in any objectively defined or universal manner. So what’s the point? That is how moral relativism works out… Morals are pointless constructs.
What are the other options?
Some claim their “heart” or conscience is their determiner of morality. But ultimately this theory boils down to moral relativism. Your “heart” tells you A is moral and B is immoral, but my “heart” holds just the opposite view. Who are you to say your “heart” is morally correct, while mine is not? Of course, the other problem is that our “hearts” can easily be swayed. Fear, pain, selfishness, guilt, and other reactions to life’s complexities can cause your “heart” to shift it’s morals quite rapidly. Sure, in time of peace and tranquility you say you would safe guard Jews were you in Nazi Germany, but when reality hits and you know that you and your own family will be massacred for hiding Jews how long before you have a “change of heart.” Besides this example, your “heart” may simply be wrong.
An example from Dennis Prager illustrates this profoundly. “If you saw your dog, your beloved pet, drowning and a stranger who was also drowning; and you knew you could only save one or the other – Who would you save?” A surprisingly high percentage of people answer their dog.
Because they love their dog, and they don’t even know the stranger (Some try to add to the scenario in their mind, and think the stranger could be a bad guy. But he’s a stranger… you know nothing about him… he is just another human being.) Ethical Monotheistically based morality clearly makes the case that one should save the stranger.
Because Man alone is made in the image of God, and is of infinite value. The dog, loved and valued as he may be, is just a dog, just an animal. A creature of God to be respected, but nowhere near the value of a human being.
Now something I find amazing, is that today’s religions have become so afraid of teaching objective morality or so influenced by moral relativism that many religious kids would also answer they would save their dog. God based morality must be actively taught, and reinforced by society’s behavior. Otherwise, it will decay. And that leads me to another point.
Many people think that people are basically good, and therefore (sense people are basically good) all we have to do is avoid evil. They may criticize religion for having so much intolerance, or make the false claim that “religion is responsible for all the wars, or all the deaths of innocents…” Besides the problem of them denying the facts that the 20th century, the least religious century of historical record, far greater and more tragic wars have been fought for non-religious reasons. Also, in the 20th century we saw tremendous horrors and mass genocide in times of peace from non-religious/anti-religious movements (i.e. Mao and Stalin.) The numbers of casualties are astoundingly more than that of historic religious wars, and the atrocities committed are even more horrific. So besides being factually inaccurate, they are basing their assumption on a parasitic existence.
They witness people basically acting good because they have a religious based morality at the root of their civilization. If you completely cut off the religious soil which fosters a moral society, you will eventually end up with an immoral society. This is what Will Herberg called “Cut Flower Culture” in his book Judaism and the Modern Man.
The attempt made in recent decades by secularist thinkers to disengage the moral principles of western civilization from their scripturally based religious context, in the assurance that they could live a life of their own as “humanistic” ethics, has resulted in our “cut flower culture.” Cut flowers retain their original beauty and fragrance, but only so long as they retain the vitality that they have drawn from their now-severed roots; after that is exhausted, they wither and die. So with freedom, brotherhood, justice, and personal dignity — the values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they possess neither meaning nor vitality.
Unfortunately, history has proven his theory correct. As Christianity lost its power in Germany, Nazism flourished. As Mao destroyed the religions in China, his terror grew. And while some may think goodness is a natural human tendency, reality seems to differ. Rather, people are naturally selfish, narcissistic, ungrateful, and not courageous in the face of evil. Good religion helps foster and cultivate courage, empathy, gratitude, and moral behavior. Humanism encourages survival of the fittest, which is amoral at best.
So how does this work out in your life?
When you witness something morally troubling like someone harming an innocent person, how do you determine who was right and who was wrong?
You may think this is easy… the person doing the harm is wrong, correct? But what if the innocent starts fighting back? Does it change things?
What if the innocent person starts overtaking and defeating the one who was doing harm initially? Is he wrong in continuing to fight since he seems to be winning? Or should he stop?
What if the attacker continues to provoke and throw punches at the now dominating victim?
What if all the attacker’s efforts seemed ineffective? Is the victim morally wrong to continue his own assault on his assailant?
By now I’m sure some of you know why I am using this scenario and what I think it is analogous to.
Israel, though not innocent and certainly not perfect, has been repeatedly and incessantly attacked by multiple assailants. Miraculously, Israel continues to defeat and thwart all but one of her enemies numerous attacks. While Israel is successfully combating many of the military and terrorist attacks, they are failing at the media attacks. The one attack that Israel is not winning is the battle for public opinion.
The media has effectively swayed the “hearts” of many, if not most, of the world’s opinion against Israel. One of the most efficient ways they do this is by shifting blame. How do they do it so easily? They only use graphics, sound bites, and stories that fit their agenda in vilifying Israel and glorifying Palestinians. The media’s moral compass is undoubtedly broken.
Rather than Hamas being blamed for dead Gazans, Israel is blamed. Hamas orders the civilians of Gaza to remain there, and they are not allowed build or utilize bunkers. Why? Because the Hamas officials know that loss of civilian lives pulls the “heart” strings of the world. Here is an actual order from the Interior of Hamas ordering to claim that any and all Gazan casualties be reported as “Gaza/Palestinian civilians” or “Gaza/Palestinian citizens”.
So when I hear from people that I know that they blame Israel because Israel is killing so many Palestinian civilians, I just shake my head in disbelief. I don’t know whether my friends are ignorant, naive, or operating with a broken moral compass.
I have been questioning myself as well. Am I biased because I am a Jew? Perhaps I am. It would be intellectually dishonest for me to claim otherwise. Yes I could show more evidence proving why I am right (like the letter from Hamas Interior or any number of videos and articles from MEMRI.org) but I may simply be engaging in confirmation bias.
So lets objectify the whole thing and make it unemotional.
And while I had developed my own analogy… Dennis Prager just wrote this article doing a better job than I.
“Let’s drop the names “Hamas” and “Israel” and make a list of the characteristics of two imaginary warring entities. We’ll call them Entity A and Entity B.
- Declares that its raison d’etre is to annihilate Entity B.
- Sends missiles to explode in the most populated parts of Entity B in order to kill as many civilians as possible.
- Uses families and individual civilians as human shields to protect its own leaders from attack.
- Tortures and kills domestic political opponents.
- Has no political or religious freedom and has no freedom of speech, press, or assembly, and no independent judiciary.
- Is a theocracy.
- Violently oppresses gays.
- Saturates its education and airwaves with a demonic hatred of Entity B.
- Rated a “6″ by Freedom House in its 2013 report on freedom in the world. Seven is the worst possible rating. Entity A ranks 6 in freedom, 6 in civil liberties and 6 political rights.
- Recognizes the right of Entity A to an independent existence.
- Has never begun a war with Entity A.
- Has never targeted civilians in Entity A. In fact, it has sacrificed soldiers in order to avoid killing Entity A civilians.
- Domestic political opponents — including even supporters of Entity A — not only have freedom of assembly, press and expression; they have political parties with representatives in Entity B’s parliament.
- Has freedom of the press, assembly, religion, and a completely independent judiciary.
- Allows gays full civil rights.
- Has innumerable human rights groups dedicated to the welfare of people belonging to Entity A.
- Has no education or broadcasts comparable to the daily hate in Entity A.
- Freedom House rating for 2014 is 1.5 in freedom (“1″ is best possible); 2 in civil liberties; 1 in political liberties.
So, then, with which entity does nearly every government in the world side? Entity A.
And what is the primary concern of the United Nations, nearly all the world’s media, and nearly all the world’s intellectuals? That Entity B, while hundreds of missiles are launched at its most populated cities, not kill any of the civilians among whom Entity A’s leaders hide.” Read the entire article here.
The one other reason he does not explicitly state is that due to the secularization of the Western world, and sheepish mentality of the masses in general… Israel is categorically demonic because the world’s moral compasses are incorrectly reading “Evil” when they should read “Good” and vice versa.
Somehow Earth has been transformed into “Htrae” and we are all living in Bizarro World. Unfortunately only a minority of us know we are in Bizarro World, and worse… Only a minority of those who are self aware are willing to speak out and battle real evil.
And battle we must! Goodness does not come naturally. Goodness is in a constant battle against evil.
As Edmund Burke said and JFK quoted:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
And in regards to creating a more morally upright, just, and wise society:
ראשית חכמה ׀ יראת יהוה שכל טוב לכל־עשיהם תהלתו עמדת לעד׃
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise.