Back in 1970 the movie “Love Story” popularized the idea that “love means never having to say you’re sorry!” I’m quite sure love means much, much more than that, but you get the picture. Truth doesn’t matter as long as you can trivialize it while creating emotional ownership through sentimentality. Give it a good label and you can lead the masses around by the nose.
But today one might easily say “freedom means never having to deal with consequences.” That’s right. We’ve evolved as a society to the place where you can do what you want to do and never be asked to clean up your own mess or bear the weight of any undesirable consequences of your actions. And they call this individual license “freedom.”
Here are three examples.
First, there is California Proposition 47, which reclassified some felonies down to misdemeanors. This was done in order to make law enforcement and criminal consequences much more fair and nicer for those mired in the swamp of criminal life. In some cases this means that those who steal money or merchandise valued at less than $900 will not be arrested, but rather given a citation. And, as records indicate, many of these criminals choose not to pay their tickets, or show up in court, and thereby they escape any penalty for their crimes. But I am sure they do enjoy their newfound freedom to pursue thievery without consequence.
Second, of course, is the idea that true sexual freedom must, of necessity, mean that the government will make sure we can escape the natural consequences of our decision to engage in sexual activity. By removing the horror of having to deal with the consequences of our actions, we feel much freer to continue seeing sexual activity as a team sport where the unfettered moral conscience can be satisfied without consequence. After all, abortion is nothing if not a monumental improvement in the area of personal liberty. And, we can even applaud it if we keep telling ourselves that ending a human life is really “health care.” In this case, the death of consequences only means the death of a child. Oh well.
And by the way, in November we can embed this freedom in our state Constitution by approving an amendment that allows for abortion on demand without restriction. If you don’t want your baby, the government will help you get rid of it, one body piece at a time.
My last example is the very recent decision by President Joe Biden to “forgive” trillions of dollars of college debt. Again, what a wonderful expression of freedom from consequence! I can only hope he decides to forgive my mortgage as well, and any car loans, or credit card balances I may have hanging over my head.
I’m glad the president has finally opened his eyes to the egregious traditional connection between taking out a loan and promising to pay it back. What freedom! Gone are the days when fathers carefully educated their sons and daughters about loans and credit. Gone is the responsibility to make sure our children realize the risk that comes from borrowing money. Gone are the days when we have to warn them about how easily debt can become an unforgiving task master that can ruin marriages and companies.
OK, now I’ll take my tongue from being firmly planted in my cheek and state the obvious. We’re watching government eliminate what has always been foundational for civil society. By that I mean the natural consequences that arise from our decisions and actions. I remember when you didn’t do the crime if you couldn’t do the time. When borrowing money meant working hard to pay it back. And when sexual intimacy, understood as the first step in reproducing human life, was practiced within relationships that would love and care for a child if conception occurred. All of these seem beneficial to me, right? Can we say eliminating these natural restraints has made this a better place to live?
Dear friends, I know we are a community with differing political, ethical and intellectual viewpoints. And I know those differences are deep and meaningful to us, which makes collaboration and even civil discussion hard. But at some point, we have to agree that the erosion of historical values and morals and civility has to stop. Why? Simply because we are killing ourselves. We’re poisoning the very soil that supports us, that gives nobility to our existence, and makes life elegant, meaningful and honorable.
If actions have no consequences, we’re on the doorstep of anarchy. If moral standards are up to each individual then all views and behaviors can be justified. And if we stand by and watch as the very fabric of our civilization unravels before our eyes, someday our children will rise up and ask, “Dad, Mom, where were you when tyranny and anarchy dressed up as individual license took away the guardrails of our democracy?”
I hope we come up with a better answer than we are able to give right now.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.