I admit that I’m no maven when it comes to current events. I do get a wonderful magazine called “The Week” thanks to my dad and it gives bite-sized pieces of news and editorials from “both sides” of an issue.
And in the morning I listen to National Public Radio as I’m getting ready for work. Now some might complain about the biases and propaganda broadcast by such stations and I might agree with some of those complaints. But I set my alarm to the station because it tells me the weather and it also gives me a sense of what is precipitating in the world around me…
Anyway I was listening to the radio and was surprised to hear that while some people live in dread of impending home foreclosures, others are impatient with the banks for not foreclosing on their homes quickly enough. Why? Because the value of their home has dropped so significantly that they do not want to pay their mortgage anymore. They’d rather let the bank take the property so they can buy a similar home at a fraction of the cost.
The program went on to explain, those who incur these unnecessary foreclosures may have a terrible credit rating for a while, but they get a much more affordable house. Yet, a relatively small percentage of people are defaulting for this reason. The reporter suggested that there is a social stigma of shame that overrides the financial considerations.
The reporter went on to describe how some lawyers feel it is unethical for people to stop making payments when they can afford to do so—but there are others who see it as a mere business deal with no moral import at all. (The radio station was not advocating this point of view.)
I listened somewhere between wonder and utter repulsion as one such lawyer stated,
“The reason there is no punitive damage for breach of contract is that it is a financial issue only. We have attached some kind of shame to it. But then, you have to ask, ‘shame in whose eyes?'”
Wow. Did she really say that on public radio? Oh yes, she did. Contract is a cold, neutral sounding word. But signing a contract is just a fancy way to describe making a binding promise. We don’t have to attach moral significance to keeping a promise—it’s inherent. What’s happening is that some people are detaching that significance. And that’s why they feel no shame in breaching their contracts for financial considerations.
Most people have consciences, I think. But some people’s consciences seem to resemble swiss cheese inasmuch as they are very holey. I’m sure if someone “breached a contract” with this lawyer, she’d find it somewhere in her heart to feel that she had been wronged, not just financially, but morally. Unfortunately, recognizing the wrongs others do to us has nothing to do with conscience. Recognizing the wrongs we do to them does.
Some people believe that the conscience is part of human evolution—they see it as something that developed for the survival of the human species. In that case, this lawyer is the best argument against evolution I’ve heard in a long time.
Meanwhile, shame might be a relative thing depending on whether one has a fully functioning conscience, a holey conscience or no conscience at all. People can be ashamed for reasons that are unreal, or fail to be ashamed when they really ought to be. Shame is largely conditioning and therefore is not always an accurate measure of what is truly right and wrong.
There are real standards of right and wrong that exist beyond the parameters of conditioning or social consensus. Am I talking about “religious stuff” now? I don’t know, to me, God isn’t “religious stuff.”
The Hebrew Scriptures are very clear that promises are to be carried out. Jesus reiterated that principle and took it a step farther. He basically said, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Let your yes be yes and your no be no (based on Matthew 5:34-37).
People might question whether God exists and whether the Bible is true. But every time I see someone with a conscience, it affirms my faith that we were created for something better than a gradual devolution into a world of moral relativism. And every time my soul recoils from a speech like the one I heard that lawyer make on NPR, I thank God for God. He would never breach his contract with me.