Does the end justify the means? Does the end justify any means?
It’s an interesting question. When I meet a person who tends to lead with the heart, compassion rules over logic and all kinds of strange things can happen as a result of their decision-making. When I encounter one who leads with the brain, or reason, decision-making can take on a flavor of meanness, insensitivity, and manipulation. This latter approach is often referred to as “Machiavellianism” after Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, who was famous for his book The Prince. In this book, he glorified rule by fear and oppression, on the principle that leaders must rule the masses by any means.
In truth, we were made in God’s image and our nature is a combination of reason and passion.
People get passionate about goals, values, politics, religion, education, morality, food and money, and issues of the day in all of these categories. Families and friends argue. When the argument is emotional and they ignore facts and reason, one or both parties can feel insulted, and the parties can become estranged. Many relationships have been damaged or ended by a confrontation about passionate issues.
I wonder why we don’t realize that, in a heated discussion, if we stay focused on passion and our feelings, we can miss out on opportunities for learning and growth. Or worse, we can ruin our relationships. To avoid emotional conflict, often friends who wish to stay friends may avoid topics on which they disagree. Family get-togethers can become occasions to eat, drink, and be diplomatic. Instead of engaging in conversation about important issues, they may choose to focus the conversation around “hot” topics like the traffic in town, the latest movie release, or Grandpa’s stories of growing up in the city during the Depression. In time, all may begin to dread these occasions.
Instead, imagine friends engaging in conversation in which facts and reason are introduced into the debate. No need to remove the passion, but what about examining the means to the admirable ends to which each party espouses?
In the play, Les Misérables, a man steals bread to feed his family. Passion tells us yes, it is righteous for him to steal for such a worthy purpose, and popular analysis of the meaning of the play focuses on human dignity, forgiveness, and compassion. But, getting into the head, rather than the heart, for just a minute: Ask if the man could have fed his family some other way, without breaking a Commandment in the process. That takes some rational thinking and planning. But why bother? The message is so much more enjoyable when the criminal is transformed into a saint.
Let’s ask the annoying question: How much lawbreaking is justified by noble causes? What effect does lawlessness have on society as a whole? We see this in spades in the virus pandemic “lockdowns.” The government curtailed our freedoms and broke civil rights laws all for the noble cause of protecting our health. Was that a great idea?
For another example: many feel it is compassionate to justify the killing of an unborn baby if the pregnant mother is too poor or too young to have a child, or if she was the victim of rape or incest. Instead of being stuck in our feelings, should we use our collective grey matter between our ears to find another solution that will respect the lives of both the baby and the mom, without killing either? Or, is that too tough to do? Can we just keep terminating life in the womb at a rate of thousands per day thinking there will be no consequences if we just make a “law” that makes it okay in some instances, or in all instances? Will there ever be a judgment? Count on it.
You can’t make this stuff up!
In the progressive state of California, lawmakers (I use this term loosely), decided it was compassionate to pass Proposition 47, making it a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, to steal under $950 worth of retail goods. They decided this in 2021 after small businesses have already suffered tremendous losses due to the pandemic closures and the rioting last summer. Shortly thereafter, gangs of looters started showing up at stores to steal. Huh! Who would have predicted that? In response, the IRS has revised the individual’s tax reporting document to include a section on stolen goods, requiring the looters to report the income from their take! Systemic lunacy!
How fast society descends into chaos and the absurd, by abandoning reason entirely, leading with the heart, and saying to hell with the consequences! Protecting some while ignoring the rights and protection of others may not be such a great idea.
I have even questioned God on this topic. I have asked Him: was the Crucifixion the only means to this glorious end: the salvation of mankind? Wasn’t there some other way to save us without having to sacrifice your Son in such a brutal manner? If you study the Crucifixion in the New Testament of the Bible and how it can be understood in light of the Old Testament prophecies, you will discover the answer. But I’ll leave that for your homework. I will add to that a study of the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus Christ turned water into wine. Why did He command the servants to fill six stone water jugs, each holding about 20 or 30 gallons, that most likely had to be carried a distance? Wasn’t there an easier way for Jesus to solve the wine shortage problem at this wedding? That’s your homework too. What you will find is that Jesus Christ was indeed the perfect miracle-maker. His ends and His means were perfect and purposeful. We can never achieve that kind of perfection, but maybe we can do better.
For those who recognize that there is a God and that He is both a compassionate as well as an all-just King of Kings, all-powerful and all-knowing, you might want to sharpen your arguments as to why you broke so many of His Commandments to achieve what you considered were noble ends. I’m sure Our Lord will be all ears.
For those who still do not recognize our Creator in history and proven science, I am speechless.