The Moral Disaster of Modern Life

If you really want to have your sensibilities twisted up in a knot, try listening to sports talk radio when the topic of discussion is some player’s malfeasance. The current version of that particular play has to do with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s treatment of a 20 year old woman who was intoxicated at a bar.

I’ve now heard this conversation multiple times on various shows. The great interest, of course, is focused on whether the alleged bad behavior will affect the quarterback’s career. What will the NFL do? Will he be suspended? Will the Steelers perhaps lose a few games as a consequence?

The point that callers and some hosts keep returning to is this: Is there an NFL rule that has been broken? If there is not a specific rule against this behavior, then how can the commissioner do anything?

This is a mistake people often make. Contra Aquinas and Martin Luther King, Jr., many people are obsessed with what the law and official rules as the arbiters of right and wrong. No. Human laws and rules are merely instruments by which we attempt to give life to our understandings of right and wrong. They are not, themselves, ultimacies. Laws and rules can be wrong. They can be unjust. What if there were an NFL rule encouraging quarterbacks to take advantage of intoxicated women? Would that make Roethlisberger’s conduct righteous? Should he then receive an award for fulfilling the rule very well? Would the existence of such a rule cause us to endorse such behavior?

The question for us as fans is not whether Roethlisberger broke a rule or regulation. The question is whether he did something wrong. And if he did, he may have injured a young woman, himself, his team, and his league in the process. That might require some action by those who employ him to demonstrate their commitment to justice and correction. If they do otherwise, they send the message that they don’t care and that they find his qualities as a man, outside of leading a football team on the field, irrelevant. If that is what we believe, then we merely think of human beings as cogs in a machine designed to fulfill a function. As long as they fulfill that function, nothing else matters. Is that what we think about people? Are people just things we use?

To obsess about the rulebook is to leave aside the ability to engage in moral judgment. Moral judgment is what makes us human.

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7 thoughts on “The Moral Disaster of Modern Life

  1. Here here!…down with literal interpretations of the law and the Bible! Nicely said!

  2. I guess I misread. I am sorry.

    No. Human laws and rules are merely instruments by which we attempt to give life to our understandings of right and wrong. They are not, themselves, ultimacies. Laws and rules can be wrong. They can be unjust.

    …this section is not an indictment of literal interpretations of laws and rules? I assumed you were suggesting that we were given reason to interpret laws and rules (for good or ill…though hopefully for good). I really am not trying to be argumentative, but I will admit that perhaps I saw what I wanted to see rather than what you intended.

  3. …actually, the last line of your essay really communicated this point to me better than the one I cite above. I really liked it.

  4. I believe we also make this mistake in our relationship to God. We forget that he is life and spirit, preferring rather to keep him bound in leather.

    To acknowledge that there is discovery beyond the book and sermon, and that the most authentic moments can happen without witnesses or paper trails is not something that the institutional church is comfortable with. But if through our effort to discourage wayward independence we shut off individual discovery what have we done but placed the liberated man back in Plato’s cave–this time one of our own construction.

  5. Hunter didn’t write that laws cannot be binding or literally understood. What he wrote was that what makes them morally binding is a morality that stands independent of the positive law. He cites Martin Luther King who spoke of a Law behind the law that gives any human law its legitimacy.

    And while it’s a danger to bind God in leather, it’s also a mistake to dismiss how God chose to reveal himself by binding us in law and granite, or whatever stone Moses used for the 10 commandments.

    The inadequacy of the sports commentators looking only for NFL rules or resting everything on whether there’s an indictment is revealed by asking the further question: what SHOULD the law or rule be, as opposed to merely asking what it is.

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