By Father J. Ronald Knott
If you choose you can keep the commandments. There is set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death. Whichever he chooses shall be given him. Sirach 15:15-17
For those who believe that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket,” here is one more proof — a website for those who want to commit adultery, anonymously. (I will not give out the names, lest I lead any of my readers into temptation.)
One website alone brags of having 17,630,000 anonymous members. $249 entitles customers to participation in an “affair guarantee program.” If “someone” is not found within three months of participation, you get your money back!
Here are some scary statistics to go along with it. Thirty to 60 percent of American married folks buy into that website’s motto “Life is short! Have an affair!” Of those who do have extramarital sex, two to three percent have a child as a result of that affair. Most women involved in such a tragedy will not reveal their misstep to their husbands and thus the number of men unknowingly raising someone else’s child is hard to guess.
As a priest, I am concerned about what can be done about the rising number of opportunities to “do wrong.” I am often confronted by people armed with petitions to have some law passed to “put an end to it.” While not dismissing their method, I generally do not find it that effective in a free society.
I tend to be a believer in the saying, “It’s easier to put on slippers than it is to carpet the world.” I tend to believe the better solution is to convert individuals and empower them to say “no!” That approach is more difficult than passing a law, but I am convinced that it is more effective in the long run.
Converting individuals and empowering them to “do the right thing” requires tremendous spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership is the ability to influence people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be through persuasion, personal example and the skillful use of tools such as Scripture.
The less ability a designated spiritual leader has to influence people, the more he or she tends to fall back on legal approaches and external props to make people behave whether they want to or not.
The only problem with external pressures is that you can always get most people to do the right thing if you hold a gun to their heads. The real issue is whether they will continue to choose to do it once the gun is removed? We must be able to influence people to freely choose goodness.
This is the real crisis of religion today. Growing opportunities to do wrong, along with a general decline in personal discipline and self-control, plus an abundance of designated spiritual leaders who are not real spiritual leaders, leads to the many social and moral disasters that we are experiencing.