Catholic Values Column: Responding to events which reflect an egocentric society


North Carolina has declared a state of emergency due to rioting against the actions of its local police force. Sadly, this is hardly new to our country that once stood for peaceful disagreement and Christian morals. How did we degrade from respect of human dignity to an “eye for an eye” mentality? How do we as Catholics deal with and combat the hatred in the world around us?

It seems like it was a quick descent into madness, as these types of riots have recently become prominent. I would beg to differ. When our country was first established, its citizens had come from places that had, in some way, discriminated against them and left them wanting a country that would protect their rights and listen to their opinions. They established laws to establish basic rights, including the right to protest, in order to escape the tyranny they had experienced.

Fast forward to more recent times, when the idea of Christian morals has become widely seen as “oppressive.” The idea that an outside force could determine the way we live our lives has been determined unacceptable. The idea of an objective moral code has ultimately been substituted with personal ideas, breaking down the building blocks of a society that is able to peacefully disagree.

We are taught from childhood that the most important person in life is me. Sitcoms, talk shows, and commercials preach the importance of looking out for yourself, often exclusively. We are so affected by this influence that we begin to have a mentality that tells “I am the most important, and other people don’t matter.” Anyone outside of ourselves has no relevance to our personal choices.

More than that, their dignity begins to fade away. When we have reached the final outcome of this mentality, we are tempted to act out in the way the rioters have, retaliating against the people whom we see as controlling.

The rioters have reached this final level of the “me” mentality. They, like much of America, have been told that they deserve anything they want, and they are acting upon it like the grown-up versions of the spoiled kids we all knew in grade school. While speaking against groups that they see as “entitled,” they are acting from the mentality that has formed them into the ultimate entitled group.

They are entitled in terms of their mentality, that they have the power to hurt others when they are dissatisfied with the legal or governmental systems. They have a disrespect not only for an objective moral code, but also for their fellow humans.

That disrespect is the most prominent problem and outcome of the “me” mentality. These people, at heart, feel that they are justified in taking violent action against their neighbors.

As Catholics, we recognize the need for just laws because, at their heart, they protect human life. Since the society has told people that they arbitrarily determine the moral code for themselves, and that you are the most important, they are able to justify their actions.

Ignoring the issue, pretending that the people who do such awful things to their neighbors are statistical outliers, makes us part of the problem. It’s logical to see that these people are a product of what they have been taught. It is our responsibility to recognize, firstly, that there is a problem, and then to respond accordingly.

I think an accurate response to the problem starts with talking about the issue in a way other than focusing on the violence itself. By only focusing on the actions, and not delving deeper into what kind of society produced the actions, we are left with hopeless news stories and hopeless masses.

When we are able to dialogue about the problem, which is the spread of the “me” mentality, we are able to move back from the brink of destruction. We then leave room to move forward into a society that begins, once again, to see the value in human life and the objective moral code.