We have a joke in our family about my husband’s fondness for short cuts. We’ve come to call his navigational adventures “long cuts” since they have led us to impassable roads heading in the wrong directions to towns we never heard of. We finally bought a GPS, named her Dori, and had great hopes for clear sailing, but alas, he argues with her as if she were some kind of clueless backseat driver and we still get lost.
America has, I’m afraid, fallen for some short cuts of her own. From instant coffee and pop tarts, to Las Vegas weddings, to Internet shopping – we love our shortcuts. Whatever is fast, whatever is easy. Me too. But some things – in fact most things – can’t be reached via shortcut and still maintain any quality, and our predilection for easy has landed us in a real cultural pickle.
Other cultures have been in this pickle before -- over a hundred years ago the British writer G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." Sticking to our Christian roots is not easy because it demands of us honesty, hard work, and gratitude for all God has given us. It’s easier to pretend, and pretend we have.
We have looked at “Love your neighbor as yourself, “ and cringed. Some of our neighbors are not all that lovable. We had one once who had 27 cats, none of which got enough to eat at her house, so they often snuck into our garage after our dog’s food. If one of her mangy, starving felines died, she’d stand in her back yard at midnight and howl like a banshee. Not real likable. Yet God’s Son has said I should genuinely care about the welfare of this woman. Yikes.
So rather than deal directly with that difficulty, we’ve opted for a longcut called political correctness. We no longer hold ourselves responsible for actual concern for the strange or obnoxious among us, we just mince our words when we talk about them. And then we get all huffy and holier-than-thou with those who won’t mince words with us. No improvement has happened in the lives of the “others,” but we feel better.
We have read, “Go forth and sin no more,” and been incredulous. Really? Sin no more? Surely that can’t be right. That’s hard to do. We haven’t taken the time to notice that the Bible gives us instructions about how to manage that; we’ve just recoiled from the command and gone about the business of making excuses.
His father was a 5-martini drunk; her mother spent all the grocery money on cigarillos; He’s black, white, brown, purple, and someone in the distant past was mean to his great, great, great-grandmother so he can’t really do much of anything with his life. His parents divorced when he was ten so he’s not going to marry the girl he got pregnant. He’s poor so it’s OK to hate the rich. His grandfather was nuts and he’s inherited that same instability. She was born a lesbian; he was born a thief; they were both born in a neighborhood where everyone does drugs. They are cursed with PTSD, ADHD, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, Asperger’s, PMS, STD’s, -- all real problems, but problems are not excuses, yet we use them as such much too often.
After all, it makes everyone feel good – about themselves and about others. Make excuses for everyone, exercise great linguistic care, and all is warm and fuzzy. No need to confront or demand compliance with social norms. No one can help what he is. Make up a new name. Then we can all relax.
Only we’ve sold our personal and national birthright for a mess of pottage. In the process of absolving ourselves of our responsibilities and glazing over our problems with shiny diction, we lost our possibilities as well. I remember my eldest grandson, when he was two (he’s now a college senior) trying to lay down the law to his mother. She had said to him, “Eat your dinner or go to bed.” He looked at her and said, “I don’t want two choices; I want five.”
Well, we don’t get five. Almost never do we have five. The choices are to show up for zumba class or not; to marry Harvey or not; to believe the Bible or not. I don’t know a single woman had to choose between Harvey, George, Simon, Fred, and Bradley. How often do you get to pick from a half dozen job offers? The question is to do drugs or not to do drugs, not which ones to do. We can, as a country, sprout as many political parties as we want, but in the end the real choice will always be between the two biggest ones, whether we still call them Republican and Democrat, or not. The options are always yes or no, good or evil, reality or fantasy. No real middle ground exists. Yet we’ve been pretending that there is.
In reality, we get to choose, most importantly, between honor (and its attendant integrity, determination, possible success, and a tendency to call a spade a spade) or dishonor (and its corollaries – dishonesty, laziness, and victimhood). There are no choices in between. We have opted for the latter and this is what it brings:
o Hopelessness – if it’s true I’m like this because my great aunt Martha was mad as a hatter, then there’s nothing I can do about it. Why try? Why not get stoned?
o Anger –push anyone far enough into an impossible corner and even the nicest person will bite. We have a generation of young people in that corner. We better watch out.
o Laziness – if I am born into the mess I find myself in, then what’s the point of trying to get out of it? What’s the point of working in school? I’m dyslexic; I can’t possibly do well. And what’s more I’m black so no one will hire me. Why bother?
o Immorality – if I was born this way (promiscuous, homosexual, larcenous, violent, pedophiliac, mendacious – whatever) then I don’t have any choice, therefore I have no responsibility. It’s up to everyone else to deal with my vagaries.
o Self-righteousness – worse than the worst prune-lipped church lady you can imagine are those who buy the political correctness, the excuse making and have taken that up as their religion. I’ve had many a heated exchange with gay folk, or friends of gay folk, who get a real ego boost out of climbing their moral high horse and labeling everyone who disagrees with them “homophobic.” I guess the possibility of “heterophobia” never occurred to them and in some mysterious way homophobia is a choice, but homosexuality is not. Go figure.
o Total loss of contact with all that is real. If we believe that all of our faults and everyone else’s can’t be helped, then we are avoiding reality. People do outgrow their flaws. I used to be shy – I worked hard to get over that. I’m a natural born worrywart, but I don’t like living like that, it’s an insult to God to worry, and I’m getting slowly better – not there yet, but better. It’s not true that we’re stuck with our flaws; to believe that is is to embrace a fantasy; it’s a form of delusion – willful delusion. I don’t want two choices; I want five – even if there aren’t five I’m going to insist on them anyway.
We wonder why our young people are disrespectful, but what’s to respect? We’ve taught them to see everyone as either fellow victims or enemies. We wonder why everyone’s on welfare – 49 million people on food stamps – but our shortcut to righteousness has done nothing but rob them of their future. We wonder why drugs have become such a problem, but we’ve not taught them any alternatives to the hopelessness.
We’ve chosen this shortcut and we’ve ended up in Detroit and on the south side of Chicago. We’re bankrupt morally and financially and only the truth – the long road – will get us back where we belong – in the greatest, freest, strongest nation the world has ever seen. Or we can keep on pretending. There are only two choices.