Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Moral Human Beings Living in an Immoral Society

The Priest who preached at Leeds Church this Sunday was a stand-in, though we know her well. She is member of a family that has lived the area for generations. Her sermon, which used the title of Reinhold Neibuhr’s classic, Moral Man and Immoral Society was one of those powerful statements from the pulpit that unsettles the conscience. She reminded us of Christ’s message to his disciples, which a recent Harpers article (by McKibben) summarized thus:

“in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his messages for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they fed hungry, slaked the thirsty, closed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner…”

Our priest used America’s two tiered health care system as an example of social immorality: one level of health care, perhaps the best in the world, for the insured and the well to do. An utterly different system for the poor – or no health care at all. Those among us who are well to do I (which included most congregation members, including me) tolerate this immorality because we know that if the poor received better health care, the quality of our health care would probably decline. But we don’t acknowledge this immorality squarely. Rather, we rationalize, dissemble or look the other way.

Most of us would - and do - perform individual acts of compassion and kindness. But we tolerate social immorality. That was the point of Neibuhr’s book and her sermon.


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