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Reflection 22 (p4 - cont)
Why Do Right? A Secularist's Answer

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In considering the question of right and wrong we ought not to ignore any facts, however unpleasant they may be to some of us. Human nature has its dark as well as its bright side. There are men so constituted and so surrounded by depraved conditions that, from their actions, one would suppose they prefer doing wrong rather than right. In many instances men are ferocious, cruel, and brutal. They practice lying and deception, and injure and destroy their fellow creatures. Such persons are too often born in moral corruption and trained in the lowest form of criminality; they grow up destitute of any self-respect, and without any sense of right action. People of this class are the unfortunate victims of a bad environment, which has contaminated their natures both before and after birth. If these "heirs of unrighteousness" were spoken to as to the duty they owe to themselves and to society, probably the replies would be: "As life and society were thrust upon me, why should I respect either? "Why should I prefer the straight to the crooked path -- the beautiful in nature to the repulsive? What advantage is truth to me when I profit by lying? Why may I not repudiate the tyranny involved in the injunction that I ought to be virtuous? If I am happy in following my present coarse, why should I bother about the effects of my conduct upon society?" It will be readily seen that the man who raises the foregoing questions has no conception of moral duties and the influence of right action. Moreover, it is well known that vicious and immoral men are the first to object to the same kind of conduct which they practice being directed against themselves. A man may delight in lying, but no liar likes to be deceived, and no brute in human form desires to be injured himself. Those who inflict pain upon others are the first to shudder at the lash being applied to themselves.

Society itself, notwithstanding the boasted influence of the Bible and the loud professions of Christianity, has peculiar ideas of right and wrong. It condemns the killing of one man as a criminal act; but he who kills thousands is made a hero. In the one case detestation is evoked, while in the other honors are bestowed. Hence, the only sense to which the soldier is amenable is that of duty, not of right. The public regard his acts as being performed for a good purpose -- namely, that of destroying those who are looked upon as enemies. Our forefathers, we are told, made this island inhabitable by destroying the wild beasts that once infested it; but it appears to us that a greater work than that remains to be done, which is to subdue the wild passions of man. Christianity has failed to accomplish this desirable result. As the London daily Times sometime since remarked: "We still seem, after hard upon nineteen centuries of Christian influence and experience, to be looking out upon a world in which the ideal of Christianity, which we all profess to reverence, is worshipped only with the lips. ... Throughout Europe we find nations armed to the teeth, devoting their main energies to the perfection of their fighting material and the victualling of their fighting men, and the keenest of their intellectual forces to the problem of scientific destruction. Beneath the surface of society, wherever the pressure becomes so great as to open an occasional rift, we catch ominous glimpses of toiling and groaning thousands, seething in sullen discontent, and yearning after a new heaven and a new earth, to be realized in a wild frenzy of anarchy by the overthrow of all existing institutions, and the letting loose of the fiercest passions of the human animal."

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