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Jewish World Review April 2, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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The Right to Do Wrong

The Creator, A Clockwork Orange, and war | The sundry violence of sundry "holy" men (and, lately, self-destructing women) from the Middle East destroys not only human life, but also whatever case they wish they could make for their version of government-imposed religion. For all the years of chest-beating from the Left about how all cultures are equal, the fact is that these forms are blatantly oppressive, and ought to be denounced and fought down. Not because they immediately threaten us-their threat to us is long term, actually-but because they represent the greatest oppression: the denial of individuals to the very right to be human.

By elevating religious freedom, the U.S., in some small way, duplicates for citizens the choice G-d Himself gives humans in making their own decisions in the world.

G-d may smile on America, but we don't require our people to smile back.

Anthony Burgess' brief, classic novel A Clockwork Orange captures in allegory the dangerous mindset of Islamic fundamentalist theocrats. In the book, a young tough named Alex commits unspeakable crimes and is then arrested-not to be punished, but to be fundamentally changed. The state alters his mind so that so that when he so much as thinks of committing violence, he becomes unbearably ill. Upon release, Alex can do only good-but the reader learns that the good he does is in name only.

With his actions disconnected from his heart, Alex behaves as a moral person might, but he is not made into a moral man. In that is the central idea of the book: Goodness only edifies the doer if he could have chosen to do otherwise. Unless a choice not to do good exists, human beings are denied their humanity, which is all G-d gave us in the first place.

With their legally mandated prayers, prescribed beards (of all things), and piety enforced at the barrel of a gun, the Taliban and similar regimes parody the honor they claim to show their gods. But what kind of god wishes his followers to be coerced into faith? Such is the sad, simple and dangerous course they have pursued (not that some religious people here in America don't suggest a form or two of this once in a while).

How could anyone believe this behavior honored G-d? G-d wants our hearts, which inform our behaviors. If he has our behaviors but not our hearts, he has nothing. Augustine put heart and behavior in proper order: "Love, and do what thou wilt," as did Paul: "By grace are you saved through faith… not of works."

Some argue that we should be an explicitly Christian nation. To the extent that a secular expression of Christian ideals and behaviors is a noble goal for believers and non-believers alike, it's a good idea-and the thought behind the claim that we are indeed a "Christian" nation. But to force someone to "accept"-and that word loses its meaning in this context-some particular set of beliefs creates behavior by coercion and not by choice.

This idea is a reflection of the story of G-d's first relationship with man in the Garden of Eden. If He had forced Adam and Eve to live some particular way, G-d would have had no opportunity to truly hold their hearts. Their "love" would have been absolutely meaningless, because they could have offered nothing else.

The most basic task of decent government is to maintain the choice that defines humanity itself: the choice to do good, or to do otherwise. We can and should prescribe certain civilized behaviors, and punish those behaviors that do harm to civilization, but we should only do these things to the extent that we maintain basic order in society, preserve the lives and safety of others, and protect the rights of others to make their own most elemental-most human-choices. Government can never mint truly "good" people, because a mind itself is changed by another mind, not by coercion.

The war on terror is a battle to preserve civilization, but it is, in one sense, far more: it is a battle against those who daily deny the fundamental right even to be human; and to choose right and wrong. In the forever-war on oppression in the modern age, there has never been an enemy quite like this one.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


03/26/02: The Big Story No One Talks About: Why isn't Washington serious about airport security?
03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
03/08/02: The safest place in the world --- for now
03/05/02: Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long