Since last week, I have had the opportunity to compare about ten cellphone compasses side by side. Again, they were all over the map, so to speak. Compared to mine, they differed by five to forty degrees. In one case, knowing which way was actually true north, one phone indicated that north was fifteen degrees to the east and one showed north to be about twenty degrees to the west. It is not clear why theses cellphone compasses seem so unreliable, but an issue of some sort clearly exists.
When it comes to our own moral compasses, it is obvious that these also lack a degree of reliability. The human reckoning of moral truth varies greatly, now more than ever. The general loss of religious observance, our fallen and corrupt culture, the erosion of the family, and the continued exaltation of license disguised as liberty have all conspired to throw our moral compasses off course. Even if we remain immune and unstained from these factors, there are many other forces that can influence or even deform our sense of right versus wrong.
Chief among these factors would be fear. Fear causes us to do things we would never do under normal circumstances. Fear can short-circuit our intellect allowing us to commit sin or stop us from doing what is right and just. Out of fear, many people today refrain from witnessing to their faith. Great evangelical opportunities exist in our very midst, but we fear being judged or persecuted for sharing and expressing the Gospel. Actors and musicians lose roles and gigs because of their faith and often feel compelled to remain silent in the moral cesspools that Hollywood and Nashville have become. Someone might marry out of fear or remain single out of fear. Nevertheless, the right thing, the moral course of action, remains irrespective of the presence or magnitude of the fear we might feel.
A ‘kissing cousin’ of fear is human respect. Human respect often silences us from speaking and doing the truth. Human respect has become such a strong force that many people, including priests and bishops, will compromise or withhold the truth for fear that the truth might hurt someone’s feelings. It is as if offending someone or hurting their feelings is the only remaining mortal sin. Human respect has caused Church leaders to water down responses to critical moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, false expressions of marriage, the central role of faith in the life of individuals and in the public square, promiscuity, and the exercise of our civil rights to worship and pray inside and outside of our church buildings. Out of human respect, the Church here and abroad has allowed itself to be declared non-essential because of Covid. In many parts of the country, fewer restrictions have been placed on Home Depot, Olive Garden, and Piggly Wiggly than on our houses of worship. Sale of booze was deemed as essential but community worship of God was declared much too risky. Out of human respect, objections from our bishops have been tepid, few, and far between.
Hypocrisy also warps our moral perception. An example of this can be seen in the recent uncivil unrest many cities have suffered. Protesters are allowed to congregate and shout without having to observe any social distancing and face covering mandates. Why? Supposedly because these activities are protected under the Constitution. But the free and unhindered exercise of our religion is not covered under the Constitution? Hardly. Both free speech and the exercise of religion are explicitly protected under the First Amendment. Some will even go so far to say that rioting, vandalism, assaulting innocent bystanders, murdering police officers, and arson are all covered under the First Amendment, but no hint of any of these crimes is suggested in the language of the First Amendment or the Constitution itself. Similarly, many corporations have expressed support, both verbal and financial, for Black Lives Matter, which is hypocritical on many levels. Wanting to signal their corporate virtue, they support a Marxist organization with anti-corporate and anti-capitalist principles, an organization that claims that ‘all lives matter’ is somehow a racist statement. A hundred years ago Vladimir Lenin would have called such virtue-signaling companies useful idiots, but in a year as crazy as 2020, many people will likely see them as great heroes. How is this possible? Because many people have let fear, human respect, and hypocrisy overwhelm their moral compasses.