Building a Better Case for Morality

Not sure if you heard about the story out of California about teens playing a game called “Beat the Jew,” but I read an article responding to it that I thought was interesting. The author, J. E. Dyer, was, properly, shocked that this could happen in his corner of the desert, but his main point is to call into question the strategy being used to confront the problem.

Sadly, comments at the Desert Sun about how to put the “Beat the Jew” players in a better frame of mind have tended to focus on emphasizing the horror of the Holocaust:  e.g., bringing in Holocaust survivors to talk to the kids, telling them stories of the evil brought on by Hitler and the Nazis.  But while that kind of interaction is always worthwhile, the direction implied by this approach is ultimately weak and situational.  Its tacit premise is that Jews are to be treated with the same respect we accord all human beings because they were victimized in the Holocaust.  And that is a profoundly fragile premise, contingent on no one else trumping the high “victim card.”

Yet as we see with the Hamas “Palestinian” narrative, it is cheap and easy to create victim narratives that gain wide favor through playing on people’s emotionalism, prejudices, and ignorance.  Western audiences have been responsive to the political game of “The Biggest Victim” for decades now, and the result is moral chaos.  Swinging in the breezes of victimology like weather vanes, we are losing all sense of why we should “treat each other right.”

None of us, not Jews or anyone else, is reliably protected by being perceived as a victim.  It’s not victimization that qualifies us for humane and respectful treatment by others; those aren’t even valid terms for an effective morality.  It’s the obligations we levy on ourselves that are the actionable elements of the moral code.  From that perspective – the only perspective that yields reliable patterns of behavior – there is exactly one thing any of us needs to know about Jews, and that is that they are our fellow human beings.

The victimization paradigm fails in a lot of ways, but the one highlighted by Dyer is perhaps the most important societal failing. It produces a moral relativism which leads, it seems, inevitably to an implosion because everybody claims special rights, even freedom from obligation to what is right, because they hold victim status. It shifts the basis of moral authority away from truth to sentiment, and that is always a very dangerous shift. For example, emotional fervor is driving most of the violence in the Middle East. The victimization paradigm serves to give it plausibility and justification—“They’ve been subjected to so much injustice, what else should we expect.”

It is sobering to think of the damage being done to society by this kind of privatization of moral ethics. Perhaps more sobering is the fact that this mindset so pervades our culture that it is seeping its way into how believers approach ethical issues. We, of all people, should recognize the reality and authority of an external standard, the Scriptures, given to us by the One who is Truth.

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