Thursday, March 31, 2011

Virtue by Osmosis?

Thursday March 31, 2011

In strict contrast to Monday’s blog, there are acts of stunning kindness around the world. You may recall in October 2006 a 32-year-old milk truck driver barricaded himself in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and shot 10 young girls execution style. Yet within days, grieving parents reached out to the widow of the killer, offering forgiveness and financial assistance.

A new study from University of British Columbia finds that just reading about extreme acts of “human goodness” can make people more virtuous, and more willing to help strangers. You can read the story at

I’m not disputing that their conclusion may be true, even though the experiment seems a little contrived. In fact, the “Act of Random Kindness” movement is based on the premise that virtuous acts tend to be repeated by the recipients. If this is so, our compassionate actions should have a cascading effect throughout our community, beyond the initial kindness.

However, the producers of violence on film and television constantly try to assure us their product doesn’t have the same effect on viewers, even the impressionable. The same goes for unethical and indecent behaviour, particularly when shown as acceptable or justified.

If it is really true that what we expose ourselves to affects our behaviour, is it a clue where destructive behaviour comes from, both in our communities and worldwide? Perhaps it is a hint why the sins of the father will be visited on succeeding generations. The children will be punished for their own sins because they simply copy dad’s example. See Ezekiel 18.

I leave you to consider the implication for all of us.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When Will It End?

Probably most of you have seen the news video of Eman al-Obaidi and heard her screams as she tried to tell her story to foreign journalists in a Libyan hotel. She showed the blood and bruises from being gang-raped by Ghadafi’s soldiers, before Libyan security intervened and bundled her away in a car.

This video clip may well be a defining moment in the Libyan uprising for freedom and justice. The many stories of atrocities, terrible though they are, simply become a backdrop to Ghadafi’s rule, but this dramatic presentation of distress from vicious cruelty sears the mind. It becomes the symbol of the systematic violence of autocratic oppression, not only in Libya, but much of the Arab world.

Emergency rule, allowing the detention of anyone without arrest or trial, has been in place for decades in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Syria, and probably other Arab states. The number of repeats of Obaidi’s experience, and other variations of nationally sanctioned intimidation, in so many nations for up to half a century, defies imagination.

These atrocities rival Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s holocaust. The only difference: these victims died, and continue to die, one at a time over decades, unnoticed apart from grieving families.

This story highlights three things for me.

First, the temperament of the Arab populations has changed. Populations’ fear, infused for half a century by their leaders, has turned to anger, against which intimidation will not work. Further episodes like Obaidi’s will only continue to stoke the wrath of the people. The turmoil is not yet over.

Second, it is a picture of human depravity and its outcome when unchecked. Given the right conditions, the murderous inclination of the human heart, from Abel and Lamech to the outrages of the last century, continue unabated, with no cure from human ability.

Finally, there is hope in Jesus Christ, the only source able to finally tame and change the human heart. His return will herald the world meant to be. Whether in spiritual darkness or in physical captivity, He will come “to open the eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” “He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:7 and 4).