For those seeking to be uplifted, reading the paper may not be the best option. A quick glance at headlines in the Dispatch or any other newspaper can lead a man to lugubriousness faster than he can say “Anbesol.” Happily, though, we can find rays of light even amidst the often-dismal reports that we read. It’s just that you have to dig a little.
Back on the 25th of July, The New York Times included as its quote of the day an admonition from Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to Msgr. William J. Lynn, whom she was sentencing to a prison term for his role in a sexual abuse cover up. The quote: “You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong.”
Notice Sarmina’s direct use of the terms “right” and “wrong” here. These are intrinsically moral words. I find it encouraging that Judge Sarmina felt comfortable speaking in this language. I also find it encouraging that just about everyone would agree that “right” and “wrong” are still legitimate terms to apply here.
Among modern apologists, C. S. Lewis is probably the most recognized proponent of the so-called moral argument for God. Lewis argued convincingly in the earliest chapters of Mere Christianity that one cannot explain mankind’s pervasive sense of right and wrong solely in cultural and adaptive terms. He writes, “First, human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly . . . they do not in fact behave in that way.”*
The Sarmina quote demonstrates to me that our culture still embraces the notion of morality. Where our culture falters, it seems to me, is that many choose not to embrace the logical basis for our “ought” statements because this would require us to acknowledge something or Someone who transcends us—something or Someone who might very well hold us to account.
The solution here is not to excise terms like “right” and “wrong” and “ought” from our vocabulary, but to admit that our pesky, universal sense that we can and should use these terms might be evidence that Someone put that sense within us in the first place.
*C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macillan, 1960), 7.