Human beings suck. We’ve murdered, raped, belittled, ignored and otherwise objectified each other since we first learned to totter on two feet, and will continue to do so until the whole edifice of earth collapses beneath us.
If you nodded, agreed, or agreeably grunted at that statement, then please — go outside, take a knee, punch yourself in the face. Reject despair.
Mankind will always face temptation. Evil will always be seductive. But every sin is a free choice made by a person endowed with free will. For each and every sin there always exists a possibility for the sinner not to have sinned, to have refused to acquiesce to Nothingness and to have chosen to love instead.
We’re so used to our addictions, our sociological justifications, and our grand, logical flop that “People are going to do it anyways” that we should get the following tattooed to our heads:
Our actions are not determined by sociology, biology, neurology, psychology, ideology, geography, culture, race, society, class, environment, upbringing, demography, statistics, law, government, sexuality, religion, Satan, God himself, or the entire sum total of every influence in existence.
We act. Anything that influences an acting person implies a freely acting person to begin with. Influences matter (and can even seem stronger than our will) but they could not exist if they did not have a freely acting person to influence.
This is a complex way of stating what we all know: We are responsible for our actions. Our choices are our own. Man is free — influenced, but free.
Thus man always exhibits himself as standing outside of the factors that determine the actions of animals. Animals are driven by an urge to eat and drink. Man can starve himself to death. Animals are driven by an urge to reproduce. Man can be celibate. You, sitting at your computer, can do something entirely ridiculous. You can snap your computer in half. You defecate in your own pants. You can pray to God. You can buy a turtle and paint its shell with flames. You are free.
It follows that there will always exist a marvelous potential for the entire human race to love each other, to never sin, and to never, ever reduce ourselves and each other to objects of use. Universal love cannot be achieved by politics, economics, social programs, or any number of positive influences (though these may certainly aid and inspire us to choose the good) for the simple reason that they are but influences. Universal love can be achieved only by every human being choosing it. The answer to the problem of hatred, violence and sin is tautological – we can love perfectly if we love perfectly, reject evil and do good if each of us reject evil and do good — but it is the answer nonetheless.
Every dream of perfect love and harmony is valid. World peace is not the province of hippies, it is precisely as close to fulfillment as an individual choice, which is why Mother Teresa can say “peace begins with a smile” and mean it. Peace begins with the choice to be peaceful. Without it, peace fails and war begins.
A society founded on love, brotherhood and forgiveness is not an idea to be scoffed at before we go back to figuring out how to execute criminals, provide for abortions, and otherwise safeguard ourselves with the idea that “people are just going to do bad things, so let’s deal with it the best we can”. Of course they are. But they are free not to.
If every human being in the world is free to love and not to sin, then good people contain within themselves the power to change the world. Be free yourself, and by it inform others they are free. Be good yourself, then show others the good they can, in freedom, choose. The man who truly recognizes that all people have the capacity to do good and avoid evil must spend his life tempting people to love, for with his great power comes — you guessed it — a mighty responsibility. You cannot simply know that every human being has the capacity for love and then give a shrug when they choose not to.
This was all made clear to me by the recent case at Big Red High School in Steubenville, Ohio, where I attend university. A group of footballers raped a girl. They have all avoided justice, and it is only through the actions of bloggers and a few acting under the banner of Anonymous who have released indicting material — videos of them bragging about the rape, photos they posted on Facebook then hastily deleted, etc. — that they (from what I understand) will face trial again.
What an inditement of Franciscan University! It is a Catholic school. The depth it provides in its philosophy and theology programs is amazing. It contains within itself a Catholic culture that holds that rape is abominable, that lust itself is a poison, that women are to be upheld, equal in dignity, bearers of the “feminine genius” and hope for mankind, and that men show their strength in virtue, not in abuse. That this culture has failed to infiltrate the high school across the street is a failure on my part, and the whole school’s. If those footballers had the total capacity for good and chose against it, down the road from a people professing to know the good, to preach it, and to contain within themselves the sacramental grace to show others the good and even awaken in their hearts the desire for it, then both have failed.
Because man is always free to choose, we have a duty to our neighbor, to inform him of the immense freedom he is cloaked in, and to show him the good. Let’s all of us live up to that duty. Let’s be good, do good, preach the Gospel, feed the poor, visit the imprisoned, comfort the dying, admonish the sinner, and generally be who we are: Saints.