Unintended Consequences

2015-06-28 08:38:34

Excerpt: The Christian community, and society at large, needs to find a balance point between idealism and pragmatism.

The previous post, Sins, Crimes, and Mistakes, sought to find an answer to the question of how Christians should respond to harmful behavior. But it also raises another question: Why doesn’t idealism work very well?

The answer is hinted at in a quote from the movie Ben Hur: “Balthazar is a good man. But until all men are like him, we must keep our swords sharp and our intentions true.” Self-defense is necessary as long as there are people in the world who seek to destroy others or forcefully bend others to their will. Some may object, arguing that they would rather be killed or enslaved than to defend themselves, but this argument falls apart when such a stance would result in the suffering of others. For example, suppose someone is about to murder an innocent person, and you have a split second to react and stop the murder by force. Does your own personal pacifism mean that you will not come to the victim’s aid? And if you would make an exception in that situation on a personal level, why is this exception to be rejected on a national level, when even more lives are at stake?

In that example, we see that an idealistic refusal to use force can result in showing no compassion for victims. Moreover, it can embolden criminals to continue committing such attacks, since they know they will not be resisted. Thus the unintended consequence of this example of idealism is that it does not bring the expected peace and repentance; rather, it invites more suffering and death.

Another example is seen in the post A World Without Orphans. In setting up facilities to show compassion for orphans, parents who were alive and capable of raising their children decided that life in an orphanage would be better, since then the children would be given food, clothing, shelter, and education. So, ironically, the orphanages resulted in the creation of more “orphans”, exacerbating the problem rather than alleviating it. The best of intentions was thwarted by unintended consequences, which in turn was caused by parents misusing the orphanages. The root of this attitude by the parents was simply that they valued success and necessities more than family and togetherness.

This same idealism is at the root of America’s problems with welfare and illegal aliens, topics addressed here in earlier posts. The unintended consequence is that the “poor” and “homeless” have multiplied, and more people than ever have become dependent on handouts. Here again, many saw that free things were being given without proof of need, and they had no sense of pride in themselves or concern for the working people paying the bills. They do not see this as compassion or as a reason to become Christians, but as an entitlement.

But perhaps the most tragic idealism has been that committed by the Christian community over the centuries: We have the ultimate cure for everything regarding the soul, but we treat the symptoms instead of the disease. War, crime, the moral decay of society… these are heart problems. We cannot treat the physical needs of others while neglecting their spiritual needs, and naïvely expect them to be grateful or open to the gospel. It seems that we have become “ashamed of the gospel of Christ” and put greater importance upon the symptoms, fearing to offend by speaking the name of Jesus as we did so. Or, a disturbing number of people who do good deeds in the name of Jesus have been caught in sexual or financial scandals, bringing further reproach upon the Name. And this too is partly the result of an idealistic presumption that everyone claiming to be of Christ is to be believed without question.

All of us, whether as Christians or simply as citizens of any country, must begin to live on principle. This is the core of a representative republic form of government, the best humans can manage. But it will never succeed for long without a change of heart among the majority of people. Morality cannot be externally applied; it must come from within as a personal conviction. People have to be convinced that certain principles are for the good of all, since they will not live out any lofty principles against their will. Morality is not trivial; it is the foundation of a life of peace. But again, until everyone is moral and lives on principle, the rest of us must not listen to the siren song of idealism. This is not to say we cannot hold to certain ideals, but only that we must remember that most people don’t share them and will take advantage of them.

Spread the gospel, live the example, and wait for the hearts of people to change. Until then, “keep your swords sharp and your intentions true”; expect people to take advantage of idealists.

PS: Speaking of unintended consequences, the US Supreme Court ruling also means that all states must honor concealed carry permits. But most importantly, it means that the states have lost their sovereignty.