Get off the Train! (in honor of August 26, 1920)

Posted on October 13, 2010


Imagine that you are on a train, hurtling towards a destination.

Let’s pretend your destination is Carmel by-the-sea, California (only because that is where I went on my honeymoon, and I wish I were on a train hurtling there right this minute).

Now, imagine that you find out halfway through the train ride that the train is actually headed east. Every second that you stay on the train, you are traveling further away from your destination.  You can yell. You can panic.  You can wish with all your heart that it was headed to Carmel by-the-sea.  But unless you get your butt off of that train and get on the right one, you will be going the wrong direction.

Life is like that.

Deep down, everyone believes they are a good person.  Even if a deep part of you says to yourself, “I’m a bad person,” an even deeper part of you has an excuse.  This means that everything in life that makes us guilty- a poor decision, a betrayal of a friend, a selfish move, anything that feels ‘immoral’- has to find a way to be justified in our minds.  Or it drives us insane.

One of the main ways that we numb our conscience is by looking around and seeing that everyone else is doing the same thing (or perhaps seeing that THAT person is worse than we are, so we must be fine). Everyone has, whether explicitly or subconsciously, a set of morals. Where does your morality come from?  There are a lot of people that believe that morality is determined by the collective instincts of society.  However, a consistent belief system based on the morality established by society would view a democratically elected official as a religious leader- someone who was elected by the instinct of all of society must be the morally correct decision for an election.

Also, the collective instincts of society have resulted in things like this:

♦100 years ago♦

  • Women did not have the right to vote.
  • They could not be lawyers, or attend most colleges
  • The Conciliation Bill, which would allow women with property to vote, is shelved by Britain’s Parliament (for the first of three times).
  • Birth control information is classified as “obscene” and unavailable to women
  • The Equal Pay Act is not passed until 1963; therefore, it is perfectly legal to pay a woman less because she is a woman (and even after it was passed, employers would just change the job titles of women as a way to still pay less)
  • There are separate men and women sections in the help wanted ads in the newspaper
  • If a woman becomes pregnant, employers can fire her, force her to go on pregnancy leave even if she is still perfectly capable of working, or not hire her in the first place.

*There are certainly worse examples of things that society as a whole (or in this case, men as a whole) have done.  However, this is a subject that I care about and at least I didn’t mention Hitler.

So, back to our hurtling train.

Our lives can be like that train unless we start living on purpose. From my point of view, there are plenty of things about our society as a whole, and our worldview as a society, that are wrong.  And unless we purposely “go against the flow” we are going to be headed the same direction as everyone else.  When someone asks you where your morality comes from, make sure you have a solid answer.  Because if we all look around at everyone else and use them to measure our standards, we will have a very low, and very wobbly, bar.

You may wish with all your heart that you lived your life a certain way.  You might scream about what your morals are and where they come from.  But you also might panic when you look around and realize that where you are in life happened by accident, while you just followed the crowd.  Living an intentional life is as difficult (and has to be as purposeful) as going up to the conductor, asking him to stop the train, getting off, and getting onto a new one.

I realize that it is another step entirely in the argument to point to God as the source of morality, so perhaps you should consider this next paragraph as a personal anecdote. But so far I have found that admitting to any morality inevitably means admitting guilt (unless you are perfect).  I am like any other human- guilt drives me crazy.  I want a life that is lived “abundantly” (in the words of Jesus) and in freedom from guilt.   My perfect justification comes in the form of Jesus Christ, who can take that sin away from me, as well as take away the label of “sinner,” and head my life in a direction that might look crazy to onlookers, but that will drop me off at a destination a hundred times better than a hundred Carmel-by-the-Seas.

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

G.K. Chesterton

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Posted in: Seriously