Sunday, May 26, 2013

Of Speed Traps and Cookie Jars: Laws of God and Man

My husband recently told me about a controversial new smart phone app. Locally available somewhere in California, it’s causing quite the stir as other areas consider developing something similar. Users of the app are forewarned about drinking and driving checkpoints. Much like the ‘speed traps’ my husband often encounters when he travels, these checkpoints can be a great annoyance for motorists. Therefore, some feel that they are entrapment and somehow unfair. I beg to differ since, whether it’s speed or intoxication, we are always obligated to follow the law. If we do what is expected of us at all times, there is no danger of being caught doing wrong.

There appear to be two main schools of thought concerning the app in question: 1) the app will actually lower drunk driving by alerting potentially inebriated motorists, thus causing them to make other arrangements or 2) it's a 'legalized' way of skirting the law.

Lowering the Risks

Whether we are talking about drinking and driving or other acts of disobedience, our fallen human nature often illustrates that we act more responsibly when we perceive the risk being caught. The presence of deterrents such as checkpoints, surveillance cameras, or security personnel will result in better behavior on the part of some who would otherwise give in to temptation. In my estimation, this is the less desirable scenario because it is based on the vigilance of others rather than self discipline. Sure, drivers might choose to refrain from unsavory behavior but they are also being provided with methods of skirting the law simply because of appearances.

Modifying Behavior

When I look at the rationale above I am struck by something that goes all the way back childhood upbringing. In teaching children we notice two main types of behavior: 1) doing what is right because of monitoring and 2) obedience, even when out of sight, because it’s the right thing to do. Without question, the second option is most desirable and therein lies the rub. From the time that we are infants, good parenting demands the principles of honesty and obedience from us. Whether it’s a child contemplating a cookie jar of forbidden treats, a student whose teacher has momentarily left the classroom, or teens tempted by premarital sex – one thing is sure – we want the behavior to reflect a moral choice, whether or not the person is being watched. Why should it be otherwise? Does God expect any less?

In today’s society, we find so many ways to escape accountability. The tools to help us bypass consequences are seemly endless. Want to have sex without pregnancy? Don’t worry about abstinence – just use ‘protection’. Find yourself pregnant? Have an abortion – no one will know. Don’t want to study? Steal the answers to the test or cheat. Even simple things, like typing out this post, have built in escapes. Make a grammatical error or misspell a word? That’s OK, just delete, undo, or cut and paste a correction. We are so conditioned to have easy outs, no matter what activity in which we participate - I sometimes find myself wishing that there was an undo button for life. Since there isn't, however, shouldn't we take special care that our actions reflect our values each and every time we act? Shouldn't we weigh our options and make choices that obey the laws of God and respect moral civil laws of the land?

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see society get back to the basics of doing right for its own sake, rather than doing right because there is a chance of being caught if we do wrong? After all, isn't that what being a child of God is all about? The Ten Commandments weren't handed to Moses with the caveat that they only be obeyed when someone is looking. What about that old fashioned concept of the ‘honor system’? Didn't people of the past say things like, ‘on my honor’?

As with every aspect of the world where we find the need for correction, we can become the catalyst – the first step in helping society live up to God’s expectations. Starting with ourselves and passing honor (honesty) to our children and neighbors can be important first steps. If only each of us makes a resolution to live in accord with the laws of God – seen and unseen – we will begin to see a better world. If we hold ourselves accountable, others will begin to do the same. One soul at a time, we can populate the world with upright children of God.