The Swinging Pendulum of Morality

As a rabbi, I am always trying to encourage people to look to Torah and G-d for unchanging, eternal values. We live in an enlightened world that believes in the basic values of morality. We cherish life, family, education, peace, charity, equality, and freedom. It is vastly different from the ancient past, when the only way to find morality was through Torah. The ancient cultures, even the most enlightened of the bunch, glorified war, did not believe in education for the masses, and did not cherish life. Today, the argument goes, we don’t need religion to know what is right. We can rely on our own moral compass to guide us through life’s murky waters.

My response is always that secular values, no matter, how noble and philosophical, are subject to change. G-d’s values are unbending. Values that we espouse today, in the most vociferous tones, were reviled only one century ago. Today we reject racism and intolerance. Only a century ago, the West’s scientists practiced or at least gave credence to Eugenics, the practice of ridding the world of inferior, impaired and unfit people. Today, this would be unheard of. But the pendulum swung in one brief century, and if it could swing one way, it can swing the other.

The pat response is, no rabbi, you don’t give us enough credit. Our pendulum only swings in one direction, forward.

Enter, the American elections.

What I find fascinating about politics is the fickleness of the nation’s determination. The electorate can’t make up its mind and blows every which way in the wind. each time a party is elected, the pendulum swings to the other party four or eight years later. In 1992, the nation was tired of twelve straight years of conservative presidents, so they elected a democrat for eight years. The nation got tired of democrats and raved about how corrupt the democrats have been, so in 2000 they elected a conservative for eight years. Eight years later, the nation grew tired of conservatism and ranted about how corrupt the conservative philosophy is, so in 2008, they elected a liberal for eight years. Now eight years later, the media reports on how tired the nation has grown of corruption and elitism. Now America has elected a brand new style conservative.

Each time, the media makes it sound like the past administration was terribly corrupt, and pretends that the president elect has a national mandate to transform the country. Every value of the past eight years must be turned on its head. Each piece of legislation must be reversed. Each point of philosophy must be reviled. That is the new mandate. But wait. Just eight years ago, the nation cried foul in the other direction. Why does anyone think that today’s cries are any different from the last ones. Just like the cries from the last election were reversed, so will these cries soon be reversed. The nation is not willing to stand firm on either side. For this nation, the pendulum constantly swings.

I am not surprised that it swings. It is probably healthy to see it swing back and forth. I am surprised that each time it swings, we behave as if this is the full answer, the new reality, the wave of the future. It is not new and it is not the answer. It is merely another swing of the pendulum.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you are looking for unbending, non-swinging values, values that are rooted in true ethics, not just the fickle spirit of the day, you need to turn to Torah. Only an unchanging G-d can give us unchanging values. Society’s morals are, but a pendulum. Right today is wrong tomorrow, and wrong tomorrow is holy the day after.

Hypocrisy Is Well and Alive

Here is another important point about this election cycle.

I remember well when a right-wing commentator came under attack eight years ago when he announced that his candidate did not win the presidency. He was not happy with the liberal president and said that he would do all he could to ensure a right-wing president would be elected in the next election.

He came under fire for speaking this way after the election. America, everyone claimed, is a country that comes together after an election and effects peaceful transition of power. This man, they said, should not be a sore loser and accept the new president even if it wasn’t his first choice.

Today, many of those very people are talking about moving to Canada and posting on social media under the hashtag, not my president. It is amazing how quickly we criticize others and how slow we are to take our own point. My mother used to say, we notice even a fly on another’s nose, but on our own nose, we would miss even a beer.

Negative slurs, invective venom, unfair criticism and untrue allegations are wrong no matter which side of the aisle they come from. But to be divisive on one side, and condemn the divisiveness that comes back at you from the other side, is downright hypocritical.

We all need to take a good look in the mirror these days and see our own shame. How low have we sunk. There is (I hope) nowhere to go from here, but up.

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