Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ethics and Justice. Part 8: Respect for Life: The Foundation of Ethical Behavior

When Jesus said: Love God; and love your neighbour, he was echoing something that had long been true in Israel’s history: God is deeply concerned with how we treat one another. He demands moral and ethical goodness. God goes into detail when regulating how we treat each other. Consider Deuteronomy 25:13-16: Do not have two differing weights in your bag - one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house - one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.”

Who does God detest? “Anyone who deals dishonestly!” Various versions render this differently, but the point is the same, and it should cause us to stop and think. If you lie, cheat, steal, mislead, or deceive for the sake of personal gain you are stirring up the anger of God because you are dishonouring a human life created with dignity in the Image of God! It’s not only high profile corrupt executives who have a lot to answer for – it’s the manager at the grocery store who charges more than the marked price, it’s the banker who tacks on “hidden fees,” it’s the gas station owner who has rigged his pumps to give you less gas than you’re paying for – “God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.”

The foundation of all these laws is respect for life. As we consider ethics, and morals, and practical implications, and this situation and that situation, let us never lose sight of the fact that it all depends on respect for life. Three thousand years ago most civilizations accepted human sacrifice as normative. In the context of that world God gave Israel certain laws, based on respect for the sanctity of life, not just human, but animal life as well. For example, God commanded them not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Why? Because it is cruel to cook an animal in the very substance that gives it life. Jews were forbidden to eat the limb of a still living animal. And the Sabbath day commandment includes the remarkable obligation to give your animals a day of rest as well.

In the Jewish Talmud there is an obscure law that is one of the most ethically beautiful laws in Judaism. It simply says: “One is not permitted to ask a storekeeper the price of an item if he knows he will not purchase it.” Now isn’t that incredible? Just think about it. When we go into a store, from a clothing store to a car dealership, and we pretend to be interested in something we honestly have no intention of purchasing simply because we have time to kill, or we just want to test drive the car, we are stealing. Stealing valuable time from someone. Now, by all means, shop around for the best price if you really intend to buy something, but don’t intentionally deceive someone. Don’t falsely raise the hopes of someone who works on commission. This obscure Jewish law can help build an ethical society because it makes us aware that we have certain obligations towards other people. We’ve been told so often that “The customer is always right,” we really believe it! We’ll stand in line and argue with the people at Target until they take back an item we know we bought at Wal-Mart!

You can apply this principle to so many areas of your life, and you will be part of the solution in our society, not part of the problem.

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