Law abiding, bad citizens

We can't break even one

We can't break even one

Most humans that I know, and I would say most humans, have grown up and managed to not get thrown in jail. Now, this could be for a variety of reasons but for purposes of this article we are going to assume it’s because everyone grows up somehow knowing the laws, and then not breaking them (at least the ones that will get you thrown in jail).

It’s really not that hard to not break the laws that land you in jail, it usually takes conscious effort to get to that point. No child is ever sat in front of the legal statutes and laws of the land and told to memorise them, and be aware not to break them.  So how do we miraculously grow up not just murdering people, stealing their stuff and blowing up their garden gnomes?

Well, I don’t really have to answer that do I? A child gets raised small experiences at a time. Experience 1 is trying to stick a fork into a power socket, which could end in a few ways.

  1. abrupt and violent encounter with moving electrons.
  2. abrupt and violent encounter (from the child’s perspective) with moving parental hands (done in a loving fashion of course)
  3. abrupt and violent encounter (child’s perspective again) with a screaming parental mouth, sometimes accompanied by running and the wild flapping of arms (which helps mitigate the violence and inject some comedic entertainment into the event)

Every one of the items in this admittedly incomplete list should provide the child with the understanding that power points should be avoided, on pain of violence.

That experience teaches the child nothing about the laws of the country at all (except maybe later on when they realise corporal punishment might be illegal) however by other small experiences, like violent encounters with angry mouths for taking a toy from Johnny’s toy box, the child learns that you don’t take things from other people. They are not taught that it is illegal to do this, they are just taught that it’s not nice. Thus, hopefully/usually, the sum total of these experiences leaves you with a law abiding product. At some point we are made aware that it is also illegal, I guess, but as far as I can see/remember it’s not an explicitly taught thing.

The bonus of this kind of learning is that you don’t have to sit in front of stuffy law books and worry about breaking laws like (if you live in Ohio) not getting a fish drunk. You get to learn on the job, which is great for instructor and pupil. You even get a probationary period within which to learn these laws, infractions are dealt with less harshly for those still in the probationary period.

Amusingly, the ones that do eventually sit in front of the dusty law books and learn them, get disliked by everyone (until cheap legal advice is required).

So, you have a product of a collection of experiences that doesn’t go about getting thrown into prison. Does this make that product a good citizen? Well that all depends on the arena really. If the metric of consideration is the conspicuous lack of trying to stab you or abuse your garden gnomes with explosives, then yes the product can be considered a Good Citizen. However, if the metric of consideration is some sort of award by the community (local, national or global) then the criteria stops being passive, that is ‘just not breaking laws’ and becomes active. That is going and actively trying to improve conditions for fellow man.

Essentially the guy that doesn’t set fire to your front lawn is not considered a good citizen, but the guy that comes and mows it for you, does a good job, and does it consistently without asking for payment you might consider a good citizen.

So teaching a child, actively or passively, about the law and the obedience to it doesn’t really seem to generate extraordinary citizens just ordinary ones. Who, let’s face it, generally break laws anyway even if not the ones that land you in prison. In my experience and interactions everyone admits to speeding, in South Africa there are very few people that have not bribed a traffic cop (or as a passive thing did not speak up about solicitation or offering of a bribe). And more seriously, in my social experience, people that admit to driving drunk. All of these are done after a conscious decision was made as to the probability of getting caught. However teaching a kid the importance of relationship and the value of life helps them attribute greater value to those things, and possibly then he/she would become active in improving the situation of those around him/her.

So really what I am saying is that teaching obedience to the law is great, but by observation and experience humans tend to weigh up the risks vs. the rewards of breaking the law. Circumstance is a heavy factor in this weighing up, and every man has his price. To claim that you would never take a life is fine and all, and probably true, a long as ‘never’ for you also includes your family not being attacked or not walking in on your partner and catching them in the act of infidelity. See, not many people go out with plans to wreck their lives by way of murder. But for some being merely human and subject to emotional extremes it just seems to happen.

This consideration, besides percolating in my brain for who knows how long, was brought to the fore as I was cycling home this week and I went past a pre-school, the school was a religion specific school, advertising the teaching of that religion’s laws in the school’s curriculum (it was not a Christian school). If I take this in a Christian context, and apply the general understanding that teaching the law will bring about good citizens, then teaching the commands of Jesus will produce good Christians, right? But that is just not true, no matter how hard we try to do that at Sunday school.

A statement was made at a Sunday school meeting I was in (by a video guy on a projector) that ‘Christian’ kids that left school and went to varsity more often than not tended to ‘stray’ from Christianity and then in their mid to late 30’s some might make a u-turn and return to the fold. The reason given for this was that the kids were not taught a certain lifestyle.

After my brain digested this suggestion, it was rejected with the message ‘does not compute’. It doesn’t matter what kind of lifestyle you teach kids, when those kids go off and immerse themselves in a university or college environment, they tend to chase the experiences of that environment. Being drinking and partying, and often there is a slip of sexual inhibitions. If you have taught a child that the bible is law and scientifically accurate and literal then when the child is confronted with scientific experimentation, knowledge and the technology based on this science, questions are raised. It doesn’t matter what kind of rules and regulations you teach children as a Christian parent/teacher/mentor, it’s about teaching that child to seek relationship with Christ.

A person that is taught religious law and intellectual assent to scripture or biblical theory does not necessarily make a good (faithful?) Christian, or perhaps does not make a Christian at all. The person that finds relationship with God is given a new nature, and their values often change (value attribution changes). This is not to say a ‘real’ Christian does not fall, just that the language used earlier about a decade or longer hiatus from Christianity with regard to not teaching Christian lifestyle practices can be rejected.

The reactionary nature we have to the potential of kids falling away and modifying the means frequency or duration of how we teach Christian principle is like applying checkers strategy to basketball, it’s pointless.

The focus needs to be on chasing relationship, rather than a self help seminar on 3 steps to observe the Sabbath.

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