Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Specks and Logs and the Illusion of Moral Superiority

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Matthew 7:3-5
I think I was in Junior High School when I first encountered Jesus’ teaching about the speck and the log. I had probably heard it when I was younger, but it was in the early teen years that it first made an impression.

I loved it immediately because it was the clearest and best description I had ever seen of what was the matter with my parents. They were trying to correct me. All the time, it seemed. And yet they were blind to their own faults.

I did not take it to them and confront them with the biblical explanation for their poor parenting because I knew it wouldn’t work. They had logs in their eyes. And I knew that they would not be able to see the truth even if I could show them that it came from Jesus.

It was only years later that it dawned on me that Jesus was not speaking to my parents, he was speaking to me.

One of the perverse truths of human nature is that we are always much more adept at seeing the specks in the eyes of our neighbors than we are in seeing the logs in our own eyes.

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks commented in the Penn State scandal, the news of the atrocity of the (alleged) sexual assaults was quickly followed by the what he called, “the vanity.” He explains:

“The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.”

According to Brooks, research suggests that is a fiction. Ironically, some of the research was done at Penn State, where students were asked if they would speak up if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half of those surveyed said that they would. When researchers arranged for that same group to actually hear someone make a sexist remark, only 16% said anything. At another college 68% of students said that they would refuse to answer offensive questions during a job interview. But when they encountered a (seemingly) real stiatuion, none of them objected.

We are very good at self-deception.

We judge Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno, and the Penn State administrators by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our good intentions.

Moral outrage feels like virtue, but we deceive ourselves.

We can see the speck in the eye of another, but we simply cannot see the log in our own eye.

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