Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

Many Protestant sects claim that faith in God is alone the prescription for salvation. They point to St. Paul’s writing, which says one is justified by faith and not by deeds. They say that a person’s actions are irrelevant to whether or not a person has justified their earthly existence.

Say I am an axe murderer, and I ice my family. Scotch them, ice ’em, dispatch them thither to the Elysian fields. All I have to do to clear the slate with God would be to say “Please, save a helpless sinner such as I!”. Assuming I had three seconds to mouth these words after my spree, I’d be safe.

The problem with the Protestant idea of faith-based salvation, when works play absolutely no part in the equation, is that it offers a ready-made out. Why bother yourself with careful, earnest, ethical behavior as long as, at the end of the day, you can say “Whoops! Sorry, Big Guy!”? Why not rob and rape and plunder and pillage assuming that you’ll have those three seconds to issue a mea culpa-which is, after all, a bet worth taking? It places no premium on personal merit.

This is also my problem with the American cult of apology. We aggressively compete, we step on each others’ faces, we scratch and claw to get to the top, and if someone is hurt along the way all we

have to do is go on Oprah and unleash a mascara-streaked, hysterical confession. We hug and are absolved. In a way it’s good- in America everybody gets a second chance- but it seems too… easy.

George Allen, Senator of Virginia, has lately traveled his state in sackcloth and ashes offering heart-stricken apologies for calling a young Indian-American journalist, S.R. Sidarth, a “macaca”, which is a breed of monkey. Allen has apologized to Sidarth, he’s apologized to the press, but most of all he’s apologized to his voters.

Should he be forgiven? Sure, after he’s suffered a little. Once, my grandmother, after I issued one of my many apologies, squinted at me and said “You’re not sorry you did it- you’re sorry you got caught.”

And she was right. People are often sorrier for how their actions affect them personally than they are for the actions themselves or their consequences to others. At bottom, an insincere apology is a way to evade responsibility. It’s throwing up your bloody hands and saying “God, save a helpless sinner!”

Another time, I was in class with a professor who enjoys intellectual jousting. I offered an answer to a question-the right answer, though expressed murkily-and he unleashed a salvo of alternate possibilities, all wrong, in an effort to either trip me up or strengthen my conviction in my response. Confused and somewhat intimidated, I said “I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.”

He was taken aback, and said “Daniel, I’m shocked that you’d use such language in my classroom!” He was serious-he’s a man whose classroom is sanctuary, and he was sorely disappointed, almost grief-stricken, that I’d soiled the rug in such a manner. He didn’t call on me (or look at me) for the rest of the period. Afterwards, I came up and glumly apologized, fully expecting further chastisement. I wasn’t sorry so much for what I had said; I drop worse in the course of conversation frequently! I was sorry for the effect it had had on him. He looked up at me, brightly, and said “Apology graciously accepted.” We walked out of class arm-in-arm.

My point is that you should have to suffer for a true apology. If your actions have burdened someone unduly, you yourself should also be burdened-not in equal measure perhaps, but with guilt and a feeling of culpability. A sincere apology is golden, but an insincere one is the basest of metals and far too common.

Dan Roche is the Opinion editor for the Mass Media. Email him at [email protected]