Famed theologian and academic C.S. Lewis was convinced that most people, regardless of their cultural background, intrinsically know the difference between right and wrong.
On this point, I am inclined to agree.
Lewis was convinced that if one were to take the moral teachings of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans and compare them to the morals of people today that we would be amazed to discover how many moral similarities we share compared with differences. This, he said, illustrates the aforementioned point.
Lewis further claimed that when you find someone who says they do not believe in right or wrong, you will certainly soon find that same person revising their story. They may break a promise to you but as soon as you do so to them shouts of "It's not fair" arise.
We see such blatantly contradictory behavior today as well. Many claim that they live by their own moral code, but truth be told, they know the difference between right and wrong even -- if they (or we!) won't admit it to your face.
Take love for example. Many of us like to pretend that we don't know what love is. But that is untrue, right? We all know that "love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
If you have been to enough weddings, you probably know these verses from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 by heart. I have never met anyone, regardless of their faith, cultural upbringing, education etc., who has honestly considered the intention of these verses, who disagrees with them. In a relativistic world where perception is our temporal reality, they are a firm and lasting constant. We know they are truth -- yet still -- we often resist them. Why so?
I contend that, quite simply, it is because the vast lot of us are cowards. Harsh words? Maybe so, but I would bet most of us struggle to uphold love as articulated in the words above. Our struggle isn't because we don't think such behavior is wrong, it is because we fear what we might lose if we try. We might get our hearts broken; some might think us fools; our trying might become uncomfortable; or, heaven forbid, we might have to sacrifice our autonomy.
But think a moment what it costs us if we don't try. It costs us lasting joy, kindness and humility. It costs us experiencing honor, hope, trust, peace -- and having a "clean slate" with others. We risk community, caring, justice and an opportunity at being redeemed as good. In short, we risk losing what defines us as human beings.
Compared side by side, the fear associated with trying to love others doesn't even come close to the costs of not loving them. And the same is true with all issues that we commonly know to be right or wrong. Fear may tell us that we'll lose if we try, but the fact remains that we simply can't win if we don't try.
So take courage and try to do the right thing even if it is really difficult because, simply put, the cost of doing wrong is never worth it.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.