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Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility

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There is an old adage which states that you do not know how big a tree is until you try and cut it down. Today, as cultural forces slowly destroy it, we are beginning to understand that the same thing can be said about personal responsibility.

Society no longer believes that people ought to bear their suffering with dignity and grace. Rather, it now believes that the problems of the individual ought to be made the problems of the community. Individual problems are no longer the consequence of individual decisions, but come as the result of race, gender, class, and so forth.

The result of this move towards collective responsibility has been the invention of victim culture. According to this culture, non-whites are the victims of racism and white privilege, women are the victims of the patriarchy, homosexuals are the victims of a heteronormative society.

The 20th century is a perfect example of what happens when responsibility is taken from the hands of the individual and placed in the hands of the mob. The twin evils of communism and Nazism – which blamed the problems of the individual on economic and racial factors, respectively – led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Furthermore, such ideologies led otherwise decent individuals to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Whilst observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a former SS soldier who had been one of the architects of the Holocaust, the writer, Hannah Arendt was struck by the “banality of evil” that had characterised German war atrocities. Arendt noted that the men who conspired to commit genocide were not raving lunatics foaming at the mouth, but rather dull individuals inspired to commit evil due to a sense of duty to a toxic and corrupt ideology.

The Bolsheviks taught the Russian people that their misfortune had been caused by the wealthy. And that the wealth was gained through theft and exploitation. Likewise, the Nazis convinced the German people that their problems could be blamed on the Jews. It is not difficult to see how this philosophy led, step by step, to the gulags and the concentration camps.

The same thing is happening today. The only difference is that those who play it have become more sophisticated. Today people are encouraged to identify with identity groups ranked by so-called social privilege. Then they are taught to despise those with more social privilege than them.

Under this philosophy, crime is not caused by the actions of the individual, but by social forces like poverty, racism, and upbringing. Advocates claim that women should not be forced to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour by allowing them to essentially murder their unborn children. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV is caused by homophobia rather than immoral and socially irresponsible behaviour. And alcoholism and drug addiction are treated as a disease rather than a behaviour the addict is supposed to take responsibility for. The list is endless.

Personal responsibility helps us take control of our lives. It means that the individual can take a certain amount of control over his own life even when the obstacles he is facing seem insurmountable.

No one, least of all me, is going to argue that individuals don’t face hardships that are not their fault. What I am going to argue, however, is that other people will respect you more if you take responsibility for your problems, especially if those problems are not your fault. Charity for aids sufferers, the impoverished, or reformed criminals is all perfectly acceptable. But we only make their plight worse by taking their personal responsibility from them.

Responsibility justifies a person’s life and helps them find meaning in their suffering. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that individuals are duty bound to bear their suffering with dignity and grace and to struggle towards being a good person. To force a man to take responsibility for himself is to treat him as one of God’s creations.

You cannot be free if other people have to take responsibility for your decisions. When you take responsibility from the hands of the individual you tarnish his soul and steal his freedom.

Freedom from responsibility is slavery, not freedom. Freedom is the ability to make decisions according to the dictates of own’s own conscience and live with the consequences of that decision. Freedom means having the choice to engage in the kind immoral behaviour that leads to an unwanted pregnancy or AIDS. What it does not do is absolve you from responsibility for those actions. Slavery disguised as kindness and compassion is still slavery.

HUMILITY

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown

This is our weekly article examining an aspect of the Judaeo-Christian faith.

Modern society is based around a culture of self-esteem.  Whatever happens to make us feel good in the moment is the highest order of the day. Hence we get the abolition of winners and losers, and the advent of moral relativism.  Our highest consideration is to ourselves, with no room for God our other people.

A lot of this affliction comes from post-modernism (the belief there is no determinable reality) which has changed the definitions of ‘arrogance’ and ‘humility’ to mean ‘conviction’ and ‘doubt’, respectively. Through post-modernism our sense of humility has shifted from humility towards ourselves, to doubt of the greater truth. As G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) predicted in 1908:

” What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of  ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was  meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.  Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself.  The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic  is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time;  but it so happens that it’s practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the  ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder.  But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication  table.”

 The Bible urges us to pursue humility. C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) once observed that humility is “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” It requires us to take our personal thoughts and feelings out of a situation in order to act selflessly for others.  When we humble ourselves, God exalts us.

John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407AD) once observed that “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.” They key to true humility is subordinating yourself totally to the command of God. Never be afraid to fall on your knees in the presence of God.