Column: How we live our lives
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Column: How we live our lives

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John Donald O'Shea

John Donald O'Shea is a retired circuit court judge and a columnist for The Dispatch-Argus.

Around the the beginning of the second century, an unknown teacher penned the Didache, a tract teaching Christians how they should live their lives.

It begins ...

"There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

"The way of life is this. First of all, you shall love the God who made you. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. And all things you would not want done to you, do not do to another person."

It then explains what "loving your neighbor as yourself" entails:

"Do not murder," do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant, do not bear false witness, do not slander, do not plot against your neighbor. Do not be a liar.

My ethical training began with my mother. "Do unto others as you would have them to unto you." "If Tommy eats worms, are you going to eat  worms?" "Always tell the truth, or you will be forced to cover your lies with more lies."

My dad taught by words, and by the way he lived his life. "We don't use the "N- word;" it's meant to hurt. At the country club, when a a gentile member verbally publicly abused a new Jewish member, my dad intervened, "Stan, cut it out. He has as much right to be here as you do."

I first learned of the Didache from my second grade nun. The nuns continued to build on the foundation my parents were laying. They taught us from the old Baltimore Catechism. "Who is God?" Why did God make you?" "Why did Christ suffer and die?"

Then came my days in high school. The priests and lay teachers reinforced the gospel message that I had been given by my parents and the nuns, and provided the future tools needed for my entry and success at the University of Notre Dame, and its law school.

If I have succeeded in my profession, it is because I was carefully taught and was given the ethical and intellectual tools to succeed by my parents, and my teachers.

But today, almost everything I was taught by my parents, the nuns and the priests has come, or is coming, under assault in our country. I was consistently taught that we are not permitted to employ evil "means" to achieve a good "end." Today that principle is scoffed at by an ever-increasing segment of the American people and their elected officials. Today, if the "means" will work to achieve the "end," then they are acceptable and "good."

Libel, slander and character assassination have become an everyday political "means" choice. If a lie will achieve the political "end," then lie. And pander. Say, "I am personally opposed to abortion, but I believe that a woman has an absolute right to choose for whatever reason, even if that choice entails directing her doctor to kill the new-born child (a U.S. citizen) after a botched abortion."

Such things are permissible if "the ends indeed justify the means." Read what Saul Alinsky, the apostle of Radical Social Change, has written:

"Life and how you live it is the story of 'means' and 'ends.' The 'end' is what you want, and the 'means' is how you get it. ... The man of action views the issue of 'means' and 'ends' in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; ... He asks of 'ends' only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of 'means,' only whether they will work."

"We live in a world where 'good' is a value dependent on whether we want it. ... The Haves want to keep; the Have-Nots want to get."

For Alinsky, "good" is subjective. Whatever each of us wants becomes "good." But if each of us decide what is "good" and what is "evil," are we not all Gods? With the right to eat the fruit we desire from any tree in the garden? A good "end" is whatever we want. As to "means," the only question is "whether they will work."

But I was taught that "good" is objective. God is good. Therefore, his commands are good. They include that we love him, and that we love our neighbor as ourself.

When we compare Alinsky's way, and the way of the Didache, we find "a great difference between the two ways."

An election is coming. If a political party is willing to lie, and to falsely destroy reputations to achieve its political ends, how can anybody trust them? How can you? Lies and character assassination extinguish political civility.

A jury can only guess at the proper verdict where all the witnesses are liars. The same is true of voters in a democracy beset by liars.

John Donald O'Shea, of Moline, is a retired circuit court judge and a regular columnist.

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