Herald Journal Columns
July 17, 2006, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

How low can we go?

Pastor Bill Baldwin, Ev. United Church of Christ, Lester Prairie

Recently, I was struck by a book that recounted the early 20th century psychiatrist Carl Jung’s visit to India, where he encountered families of homeless people who had lived on the streets for generations. The poverty that he saw disturbed him deeply.

But it was not the poverty of the Indian people that disturbed him; it was his own poverty of spirit when he saw the deep love the people had for each other and the satisfaction they seemed to have living such a beautifully simple life.

Jung was an educated man of privilege, but he felt like a pauper compared to this extremely humble group of people who acted as if there was nothing they needed, and who knows; maybe they really didn’t need a thing.

We have a great abundance of things and food in our country. We have satellite TV and DVD’s that connect us with every show on the planet made since film and TV began. Still, most of us aren’t just unhappy, we are downright miserable.

We are working more hours than ever, we are all stressed out, we are in debt, and we don’t know how to relax and slow down when we do have time off. The people we call family are sometimes more like strangers. We have the false belief that more stuff and a bigger home to put it in will fill our emptiness and make us supremely happy. We seem willing to ruin our health and our happiness if it means we will get ahead in the game of “stuff.”

Despite huge advances in technology that have made our lives better in almost every way, humans are acting more and more like savages than enlightened beings. Language and visual content has gone right down the sewer on television and in the movies.

Today, some people dress in a way that likely not even a street walker would a few years ago. The idea of modesty, self-respect, and dignity seem to have gone right out the window and into the toilet.

Music, today, is very sexual and brutal. Lyrics of songs on the pop stations reduce a woman’s sexuality to something lower than scrap meat, and the language is so bad I am embarrassed to hear it.

So, here’s the thing that mystifies me: people seem to absolutely love going lower and lower and deeper and deeper into the pig slop of life. People seem to love seeing how vile, shocking, and offensive they can be.

It seems that earlier in my lifetime, people tried to honor God through how they dressed, how they spoke, what they watched or read, how they treated others, and how they generally lived their lives. There was a strong culture-bound belief that the way we lived mattered very much to God, and so we did our best to live within boundaries of appropriateness that made the world a not-to-bad place, in my opinion.

There was a clear-cut sense of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. The disciplined approach to right and wrong that was a central part of my upbringing was not brutal or unfair, not belittling or abusive, just based on high standards that were made clearly known to me, especially when disobeyed.

The apostle Paul said a little about this state of affairs in commenting that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is healthy, and that if our behavior causes another person to stumble, we should stop it. But we seem to have entered a conspiracy to all look the other way regarding the sins of each other’s lives.

I don’t regret anything about how I was raised in the ‘60s, but regret much about the life I’m living today because it is too hard to totally avoid the crush of cultural influence. It used to be that you had to earn the small amount of credit extended by a credit card company, but now, the companies want to extend you enough credit to bankrupt you and force you to lose even your home. There is no honor among thieves or predatory lenders.

Does God care about how we live? Am I being an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy stick-in-the-mud? Is the world really any worse today than it was 25, 50, or 100 years ago?

Does being human have any expectations for behavior that go along with it? If you agree that we need to reclaim our human dignity, what do you recommend that might work in changing the course of our hedonistic tendencies?

I affirm the dignity and worth of every person. I respect every person enough to want them to present themselves in a way that dignifies their divine nature.

We’re all in this life together, but we make choices as individuals. I pray that we may all have the courage to do what is right, rather than what is easy.

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