Thoughtlessness and Moral Failure

Arendt came to the striking conclusion that thoughtlessness – that is, the failure to think reflectively about the world around us, our actions, and their possible consequences – can be a moral failing of the highest order. (“Blueberries, Accordians, and Auschwitz, Geddes,” Culture, Institute for Advanced Cultural Studies, University of Virginia, Fall 2008)

My mentor, Rick Davis, continues to write a series on Moral Courage over at his blog. Re-reading an article in Culture published by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Cultural Studies left me considering the need for theological reflection all over again.

One of the most helpful courses in seminary emphasized the need for theological reflection. Ironically, pastoral ministry represented the “area” the practice was emphasized. I understand the connection. Today I would think it should be an unerpinning practice for all of Christian minstry, if not life in general. I realize non-theists would not think the adjective “theological” necessary but would agree, I think, reflection should be part and parcel of the human experience. Why, even atheists would certainly think our lives deserve reflecting on.

Greg wrote a piece on the demise of hard copy newspapers. He writes for several sources, at least one of which is “print” as opposed to solely online. Greg makes a great point. The demand for immediate news guts the occasion for investigation and reflection. Rather than give in to the demands of an Information Culture he sees the need for engaging the news in an attempt to make some sense of difficult issues. If Patricia Aberdene is correct and we are moving to a Consciousness Culture, it will demand reflection. Being self-aware requires the discipline to think through all aspects of life.

The piece by Geddes suggests the failure to think, thoughtlessness, gave rise to great evil. She notes, “. . . those who do evil do not usually look like monsters, madmen, or sadists. They usually look like you and me . . . ” Geddes contends it is at the point of thoughtlessness good people practice evil.

Theologically many will reflect on this situation and immediately race to the nature of man as the root cause for evil. In this sense though, the contention is that even we who allege redemption under the grace work of Jesus may practice evil when we fail to be thoughtful. I wonder if this is a way forward in the conversation of practical theology and personal ethics. We emphasize personal holiness in sort of a disconnected, non-relational context. Our lists of “do’s and dont’s” inform others perception of our reputatoin. However, if my list only pertains to matters of what I ingest or the vocabulary I employ I may well appear “good” and yet my thoughtlessness would show up in my relationships.

I cannot help but think of the primary issues the prophets excoriated Israel over. There is little doubt there were violations of the Decalogue. And, one may want to argue the particulars Isaiah charged the people with stem from a violation of one of the Ten. But failure to care for the widow, orphan and the stranger seem peculiar to what it means to live as God’s representative. For arguments sake were Israel keeping the Ten and letting these things go it may well have stemmed from a lack of thoughtfulness that showed up in evil. And that is a particular problem. We do not see this kind of a lack of care as an expression of evil. However, if we are to claim a love for others and yet thoughtlessly ignore need then we have surely participated in if not fostered evil toward another.


About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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