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Life truly based in Judeo-Christian ethics works well

Posted: July 27, 2008 12:08 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:03 a.m.
“Personal Responsibility”:  An Excuse to Not Take Personal Responsibility?
— The Signal Editorial Section
July 27, 2008

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”
Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re asking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the one who sent me here, working while the sun shines.”
— Matthew 9, from “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.”

The Internet recently bore a new aphorism now making the rounds. It refers to the government bailout of Bear Stearns and probable bailout of the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The neo-capitalist, nearing ruin due to the reversal of gains realized during the buildup of an asset bubble, cries: “Privatize gains! Socialize losses!”

I find this relates to personal responsibility. Everyone loves the concept of personal responsibility when it applies to someone else.

Righteously wrong
Within the last year one barely coherent resident of Bridgeport even asserted that coots should exercise “personal responsibility” by pooping on nearby public land rather than trespassing in a most unhygienic way on their private lawn (I guess the penalty for coot lapse in personal responsibility includes a loaded shotgun!).

I find much more troubling a more common local, and indeed universal usage of the concept of personal responsibility. I cite two instances: The winter homeless shelter and a recent Food Bank drive at the Christ Lutheran Church Vacation Bible School.

With respect to the winter homeless shelter, two years ago the county proposed to site the shelter on the grounds of Pitchess Detention Center. Some local residents in the Castaic area voiced vehement opposition at a public meeting.

“They want to be homeless!” asserted a law-enforcement officer who alleged much experience with the downtrodden, obviously referring to a lack of personal responsibility on the part of the homeless in their ruthless and diligent quest to sleep outside in the rain and the cold.

An even more shocking usage occurred at Vacation Bible School. The organizers asked the 500 young participants to bring an item of food to assist the local, straining food bank. They also asked for new school supplies for poor children.

Some parents declined to bring items based on the fear that “illegal aliens might benefit.” (Re-read that to make sure you actually saw it once you get over the initial shock.) I might actually start to believe in a fire-and-brimstone hell after a bit more exposure to folks like that.

The “religious and righteous” people in first-century Palestine also used this concept of “personal responsibility” to avoid caring for the less fortunate. Hence the story of the man blind since birth.

People assumed that a great sin must have been committed to cause someone to suffer blindness, particularly since birth.

But the disciples wondered what sin a newborn child could commit to justify this punishment.
They surmised the sin lay with the parents and sought the counsel of Jesus to confirm their theology. Jesus turned their religious theory on its head: No cause-and-effect existed.

Someone may just suffer blindness, or homelessness, or the misfortune of familial relationship with someone who “blatantly broke the law to get into this country,” without the necessity of great sin or lack of personal responsibility. But an assertion of fault certainly comes in handy for justifying a reluctance to help.
These great advocates of personal responsibility seem to believe that one bears personal responsibility like a great millstone or albatross he must carry, unable to lead the carefree and irresponsible life.

I always felt the reward for a good and responsible life is a good and responsible life. No one rational wants to sleep outside on a cold and rainy night, and under any rational Judeo-Christian-based system of laws no one without a stone heart could penalize the children of a lawbreaker or someone who failed to exercise “personal responsibility.”

I tend to view personal responsibility in the Jesus view he expressed in the parable of the talents. To the servants whom the Master gave much, he expected much. I also reference the parable of the wicked servant.

The Master, who forgave a large debt, became justifiably enraged when the forgiven servant failed to show mercy for a small debt.

People should exercise that kind of personal responsibility.

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development Inc. in Valencia. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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