Thirty-eight Long Island neighbors listened to her screams while she was repeatedly attacked and raped for 20 minutes in 1964, but none called the police until an hour after she was brutally stabbed. By then, Kitty Genovese had bled to death. You would have intervened, right? Right! But, really–would you have? Since her murder, numerous studies have been conducted to study the phenomenon that came to be known as "Genovese Syndrome." But what is behind such gross apathy?
Social psychologists would propose concepts like "diffusion of responsibility" or "social proof," but I think this case is indicative of something else saturating our society–indeed, something ominously ever-present–and that is sin: the sin of indifference, the sin of omission.
The tremendous irony of our postmodern "culture of choice" is that so many of us falter when faced with decisions imperative to the life of a just and honorable person. I know that very few, if any, of you have witnessed a violent crime, so you’ve not been witnesses and potential saviors in a life-or-death situation. Or have you?
We find ourselves (an interesting expression–do we know how we got here?) in an age exploding with information. Reports of exponential advancements in science and technology reach us weekly–even daily, depending on which of our 126 cable channels we’re watching. Life expectation rates are higher than they’ve ever been, so it seems that we’re living in a culture bursting with life.
Yet no matter where you place yourself on the sociopolitical spectrum, death surrounds us all. The proliferation of the "cult of self" makes way for the death of community, as the "rugged individualist" is now a me-centered zealot guided by no common principles, for fear his principles would offend someone else’s. The effects of alienation from our fellow Americans and global citizens are far reaching, one of which is the obliteration of personal responsibility. We reject the idea of right and wrong in the public sphere, dispensing with objective truth for the sake of self-esteem. (Did anybody see pairs’ skating in the Olympics?) We are a sue-happy society which solves problems in court rather than on our knees, turning to our lawyers instead of to our God and our neighbor.
Perhaps even more offensive than the erosion of community and elevation of self is the tidal wave of crime that sweeps over our country again and again. Each year seems worse than the last, even in this past decade when there was a so-called decline in crime. Not included in the cacophony of crime statistics is the grave violence committed under the auspices of constitutionality–abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia, just to name a few. These victims number in the 10s of millions–more than the Holocaust of Nazi concentration camps.
Violence and misuse of our environment is less attention-grabbing, especially post Sept. 11, but remains an urgent matter. The misuse of these gifts endowed by our Creator is potentially–if not already–an obstruction to any "progress" we make in the world.
When Mother Theresa spoke of the United States before her death, she said people here are some of the loneliest and most spiritually destitute in the world. Yes, all kinds of poverty surround us, and the effects are enormous. It is evident in the decline of our public school systems, the rise in dependence on public welfare, not to mention the plethora of needy people on the streets of our cities.
Whether or not you find yourself nodding your head at the examples I’ve given, I challenge you to three things: first, challenge the cultural status quo and reject covetous consumerism. Pay attention to the media. Is what they report true? Where did they get their information and what biases are evident in how they report?
Refute cult-of-self slogans like Diet Coke’s "Do What Feels Good," or Clinique’s "Shed Your Inhibitions" and let the companies know you don’t buy into their gluttonous catch phrases.
Second, make some choices, for the Lord is waiting. Do you believe people have a right to end life in the womb or in old age? Is capital punishment fulfilling its purpose? Does the United States reap good fruit with the foreign policy it sows? We have an obligation to know precisely how we should act and why. It is incumbent upon us to reject indifference and to take responsibility for our choices.
Third, I challenge you to love your neighbor–your fellow citizens of the world–with abandon; don’t stop at being a nice person. Extend your compassion beyond what is normal and sufficient. We must give of ourselves–our time and our talent–so extravagantly that there are "things we should like to do and cannot because our charitable expenditure excludes them" (C. S. Lewis).
Indifference is a sin, and one that affects us all. It predisposes us to unknowingly cooperating in sin, which is to say, supporting, advising or permitting sin. "Truly I say to you, as you did not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25:45, RSV). Ultimately, it is a life-and-death matter, not just for those we forsake on earth, but our own souls we forsake in eternity.
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Title: The sin of indifference should be addressed | Author: Jessica Harmon | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2002-02-27 | Internal ID: 2559