3rd Sunday after Epiphany—Mark 1:14-20—January 22, 2012
How moral are we, really? When push comes to shove, will we do the right thing? Some sociologists who study these kinds of questions did an interesting experiment recently in the Netherlands. They asked psychology students whether they would blow the whistle on an unethical experiment, one that would put the participants in harm’s way, or impact them negatively. This is against the code of social experiments. Eighty percent of the students said yes without question. But then the researchers did another experiment, with a different group of students but a similar sample: this time, they asked the students to write a letter recruiting people into the same experiment, the one that would negatively impact participants. This time, only 8 per cent of the students refused to do so and reported the experiment. The rest dutifully wrote up the letters.
This week, most of you have no doubt been reading a lot about the accident involving the Costa Concordia and especially the actions of its captain, who was among the first off the boat and then refused to follow orders from the coast guard officer in charge and go back on board to help save people. The captain has become a national coward; the coast guard officer a national hero. Certainly, the captain failed his call to service: he failed to follow his duty as the person in charge of the ship. People died as a result of his failure to do the right thing. But let’s go beyond that. We can pass judgment on him – and he certainly appears to deserve the charges he faces. But here’s an opportunity to discuss a bigger question and a more personal one: Are we moral ourselves? Would we fight over the life jackets, or give them up to the people least able to get off the ship on their own?