Skip to comments.Injustice can be blind
Posted on 07/20/2009 9:10:54 PM PDT by ancientart
Shakespeare's Richard III says that, since he cannot play the lover, he'll play the villain. It's a choice few of us would admit to ourselves: we don't want to think of ourselves as villains, and we're not comfortable if we don't feel like we're essentially good people. We want to believe that, at a minimum, we're just slightly better than the average Joe.
The trouble is that being a truly good person is hard. It's hard to control your temper. It's hard to fight against the temptations to lust, to greed, to laziness, to envy and to gluttony. And so we're tempted to take a short cut. Instead of actually living up to a high moral standard, we pride ourselves on simply professing a higher moral standard than the next guy.
But here too, we run into problems. We can't feel especially good about our standards if they are simply the same standards everyone else professes: One has to adopt a standard that is in some way special.
It's not enough to be against cruelty to animals: one has to champion the idea that animals have the same rights as people. It's not enough to favor free speech: one has to elevate the most degraded pornography to the status, not only of protected free speech, but of high art. It's not enough to oppose excessively harsh punishments for criminals: One has to favor leniency and early release even for those who have committed the most heinous crimes. It's not enough to insist that the best qualified candidate should be hired regardless of race or sex: one has to favor hiring candidates on the basis of race or sex regardless of qualifications.
And in order to really feel good about ourselves, it's not enough just to profess such standards: One must work tirelessly to make sure one's high standards prevail in society at large. In short: if you want to feel good about yourself, just become a Pharisee - an expert in the law.
Two thousand years ago, the Pharisees devised a legal system they thought ensured righteousness. Not only would they advocate for the 613 Torah commandments, they built a fence around the law, adding hundreds and hundreds of refinements to each of the commands.
Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of the Pharisaic method: Woe to the lawyers who lay on men's shoulders heavy burdens - burdens that they won't even lift a finger to help with. He warned that, ultimately, the Pharisaic tradition undermined the very law it was supposed to protect.
Very unfortunately, the American legal system has become a Pharisee's dream. We should have a government of laws, not men, said John Adams. But what we've ended up with is a government of lawyers, not law. What determines how we run our schools, our businesses, and even our churches? Litigation, litigation and more litigation.
The ultimate result is a kind of Pharisaic blindness to true justice. Jesus warned the Pharisees (and all of us) to first fix what's in our hearts, not what's on the outside. Without heart change, we end up in the villain's role - whether we choose it consciously or not.