The Moral Compass

Posted: 6th March 2011 by EricBierker in Wellness

I get a feed from Google about articles written about college in some manner. Sometimes it is about mundane topics like which university sport team won. Sorry, I don’t really care about which college team wins or loses. I never went there, don’t know anyone on the teams, and have more important things to occupy my time. For a former basketball player (and I do mean former) and basketball junkie in general, that is saying something.

Although I did recently watch the entire Villanova vs. Georgetown 1985 NCAA Championship game where Villanova upset the highly-favored Hoyas in perhaps the most well-executed game plan of all time. It wasn’t that Villanova was not stocked with good players, it was just that Georgetown, Ewing on down, was loaded and very well-coached. And Georgetown actually played  a great game. Villanova was just a little better on that night.  A real David vs. Goliath story.

Anyway, I came across this article on the Google Feed written about the declining nature of biblical literacy in the emerging college-attending generation. There may come a time soon where kids are not even going to know the rudimentary elements of the David versus Goliath story. Or if they have heard of it, will know it is some type of tale of the underdog beating the big dog, but not much else. This should very much concern us as adults. Here is why…and it has to do with my own story to some degree with a larger application.

I was raised with a framework of some biblical teaching through my semi-attending of Catholic Sunday School. Although my parents were not devout at at all in terms of the Christian faith, I think they assumed that some moral instruction of a religious nature at least gave me some grounding and the opportunity to either follow or not follow the tenets and teaching. In other words, my parents gave me a choice. For that I am thankful. Yet, I hardly was an altar boy and after my parents divorced, the fabric of my family pretty much went into the toilet. Some of that was my fault…I made moral choices when I knew they were wrong. But part of it was my parents’ responsibility. They didn’t model behavior that was illustrative of moral guidance. I don’t want to beat my parents up, but it is important to be real and factual here.

So, I spent a good deal of my teen years adrift.  I quite literally had no moral compass to guide me except my own conscience and rags of some biblical piece of wisdom among the wreckage of my shipwrecked life. This was serious folks…not just a minor catastrophe, but true life and death existential issues in play. The big question was: “OK, so if pleasure is the goal of life, how is it that  such a pursuit brings so much pain? Is life even worth living?” I had friends and neighbors blow their brains out with guns, so this was not merely philosophical  speculation in a metaphorical Cafe in Paris while smoking thin little cigarettes.   Me, a junior Sartre. No. I was asking the same loaded question and desperately wanted a reason not to pull the trigger, splattering my answer all over the walls of my bedroom. I wanted to live, but had no idea what to live who and what for.

I wound up in college as a distressed soul. It had blown my knee out playing basketball, and it ached all of the time. Pain can drive a person crazy. It was and is a constant companion. Because my knee ached, my head ached. There was a feedback loop that was hard-wired and could not escape. Instead, I endured it…and still do. If I was Atlas trying to keep the world on my shoulders, having a bum knee made an already impossible task a good deal harder.

Since I was a Political Science major in college, I got exposed to thinkers such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Our view of man is very much the result of past history and I was starting to finally get some missing pieces in play of individuals whose thoughts helped usher in the world we know. I actually started to feel ripped-off about my prior education in the public school. How was it that I was never even introduced to such towering intellectual figures somewhere and sometime before?

It is one thing to compel religious indoctrination (which is wrong). It is another great wrong to avoid even discussing the great figures of the past as an educational experience and exercise, some of whom had religious convictions. I know that the ACLU wants to drain the blood out of every public institution that has even a trace of religion, yet let us realize that such secular butchering is coming at a great cost. The trick is to make everything governmental through the allocation of authority and money, and then remove any vestige remaining of religion from the all encompassing public sphere.  It is a clever yet diabolical strategy of secularization.

So, why the Bible? The Bible shows the history of mankind. Far from being a tale of the “Sweet Bye and Bye” it is often a harsh retelling of the stories of lives. Biblical characters are hardly goody-goodies. As Kierkegaard wrote, “This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings: they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin.” Sin is perhaps the most odious doctrine to man…you mean to tell me that the God of the Universe has the audacity to call me out on the evil I have in me and then do?

Bono, from U2, says is better than I ever could: Bono “There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.” See the whole article here.

I recall a college professor of mine, a skeptic of the Bible, struggling mightily with St. Augustine’s illustration of sin (the stealing of fruit from another man’s tree for the love of the stealing and not the fruit), and refusing to acknowledge the intrinsic attraction to the evil of theft.  The professor was caught in moral quandary and could not exonerate himself intellectually from the text. Nonetheless, he refused to confess the reality of sin. It was painful yet instructive to watch a brilliant man being undone by his inability to own up for his own lack of a moral compass. His love for being lost. But, it was important to experience the wrestling and the wrangling.  At least the professor, Ivan Brychta, had the integrity to address the matter in class. Today, I am afraid, this encounter would not even happen.

A compass is an instrument that provides direction. And the nastier the weather and the rougher the seas, the more critical it is for the captain of his ship to rely on his instrumentation, for his own assessments are impaired the reality of the storm. It does little good, and a lot of harm, in the Tempest, to toss the compass overboard.

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