A story: It happened in Los Gatos in recent months. A man, driving his vehicle up a curving residential street, was hit by a teenage driver coming across the yellow line. The young man jumped out, apologizing for his mistake. Later, when the insurance papers came through the young man claimed he was the hittee not the hitter. (Perhaps his insurance company had told him not to claim fault.
The individual whose car was hit intends to take the young man to court, not for the money, but to give him one more chance to tell the truth. One hopes the truth will come out. This could give significant direction to a young life. If, on the other hand, he lies about the accident, under oath, will he get away with it and so convince himself this is the way to proceed into the future?
One wonders if our religious communities find successful ways to give moral direction. In a conversation with Rabbi Joel Fleekop of the Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, he relates how he seeks to provide education in “Jewish values” by the presentation of moral dilemmas in which the choice between right and wrong, good and bad, may not be immediately self-evident. The question that lies before them: “What’s just in the world?”
Religionists have believed that faith in God would flow into good works. But that may well depend on the God in whom faith is posited. For example, will such faith lead in a more militant or a more peaceful direction? In general, Protestant Christians have believed that ethical conduct gushes from the heart of faith. (Tappert, Tr., The Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, c.1959, p.557, para. 37) Catholic Christians have tended to emphasize the development of character resilient and responsible midst moral issues. (Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, p.40ff)
Of course, many of our young people are not involved in religious communities. Other groups take up the cause. Public schools seek to do values education around inclusiveness and tolerance. But the highest value in public education often seems to be “self esteem” leading to a rather shaky “ ... to thine own self be true” sort of ethics. (Advice offered by Polonius in “Hamlet”, I, 3. Polonius is a self-interested man in the process of betraying Hamlet.)
Others seek to conduct values education among the young. In youth baseball parks one might see on the fence, “Little League Pledge: I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win ... .” The Professional Golfers Association sponsors The First Tee which, among other things, seeks to “promote character development and life enhancing values ... .”
So we’re all trying. Collective efforts by all concerned are welcome. The stakes are high. The outcome is no sure thing.