“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” - G.K. Chesterton
As a Catholic, I participate in the sacrament of confession on a regular basis. For those who may not know, confession requires stating your sins in both kind and number to a priest who, acting in persona Christi, grants you absolution so long as you are contrite, sincere, and have a desire to avoid those sins in the future. Basically, you have to take personal responsibility for the times you have fallen and ask Christ for the graces to overcome those temptations in the future. What you are not allowed to do in the confessional is make excuses for your sins. Imagine if I the next time I went to confession I blamed Sam Adams for getting me drunk, Peter Griffin for my use of vulgar language, and Adrian Peterson for abusing my kids. More to the point, imagine if in confession I blamed a flag because I had done something racist. (In case you were wondering, these are not sins I am guilty of, except for perhaps the vulgar language, and I assure you I will not be blaming Peter Griffin in my next confession.)
But I'm not writing a blog about confession. In fact, I wasn't going to write this at all. By golly I was going to try my darnedest not to comment. I really was. I mean, I don't really care if a particular flag is flying or not flying over, near, beside, or under some state's capitol building. You might think I should care. As you read this some of you may have the sudden desire to take me by the throat and strangle me into admitting that the Confederate flag is racist, while at the same time another group of you may have the strange desire to hog-tie me until I admit that that the Civil War was about state's rights, not slavery.
Neither issue is what I'm writing about, and frankly, I don't really care all that much either way. Yes, there is that whole "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" prophecy which is repeated ad nauseam generally by those of certain political leanings (Personally, I think "doomed" is a strong word, but that's another discussion for another day) Anyway, I'm not here to debate history.
However, what I do care about - concerned about, really - is something much more fundamental to the human spirit and this American experiment in which we're all partaking: the tendency to create a scapegoat.
Now this particular phenomena is not unheard of in history; in fact it's quite common really. The idea has been around for thousands of years dating back to the ancient Jewish custom of sending out a goat, symbolically laden with the sins of the people, into the wilderness. What we're dealing with here is not new. That does not mean it's not a problem.
Cut through all the current commentary about flags, racism, and history and we find the gist of the story: a crazy, deranged young man entered a church and killed people. Yet, we want to find a scapegoat.
Evil thoughts beget evil choices which beget evil actions. The connection is elementary. You don't need a scapegoat. You don't need to know the color of the killer's skin, nor the skin color of those slain, or for that matter the state or country where this event took place for you to know such an action was simply evil. You don't need to know the killer's motivations, what drugs he was on, or how he was raised. We don't need to have a national conversation about guns, parenting decisions, or events from 150 years ago. We surely don't need to have a national debate about an emblem. Honestly, I might even argue that even today we don't need to have a dialogue about race, because the problems we're facing today are more than skin deep. The problems are even more fundamental, just like two plus two equals four, and yellow with blue make green.
Instead, I propose we have a national conversation about personal responsibility. That's the issue we desperately need to address. Not whether a flag - a piece of colorful cloth - should be fluttering in the wind at the top of a pole.
Let's talk about the fact that approximately 40% of births last year were to unwed mothers.
Let's talk about the fact that divorce rates have been hovering just under 50% for several years.
Let's talk about how the financial crisis was created and perpetuated, in large part because borrowers took more than they could afford.
Let's talk about how dead-beat dads are a drain on our economy and needlessly perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Let's talk about how parents need to make their children explain their poor grades, not their teachers. Let's talk about frivolous lawsuits clog up our legal system. Let's talk about if you piled all the guns in the world into Forest Park not a single person would be harmed.
Let's talk about how a young man can walk into a church and kill nine people, but instead we're talking about drugs, guns, and a flag.
That young man chose to take that gun that day. He chose to walk into that church. He chose to sit through a bible study, and even after admitting he nearly didn't go through with it, he chose to shoot and kill nine people.
The drugs didn't do it. The bullets didn't shoot themselves. The Confederate flag patch on his jacket didn't do it. He did it. Let's not make a scapegoat out of a piece of cloth.
**Disclaimer: I know that sometimes people do act under the influence of drugs, alcohol, strong emotions, demons, etc. and in those situations are not fully in control of their actions. Some people have genetic conditions which create dependency and addiction. The last thing I want is to discount the harmful effects of things like substance abuse or gloss over them. These are real issues. Yet, some of these issues can also be addressed in a discussion of personal responsibility. However, as I understand it, the murderer in South Carolina appears to have been fully in control of his actions at the time of the shooting; hence the comments above. If I'm wrong, I will update this post.