What would you have done?
I’ve spent my entire life wondering what I would do at certain junctures in history. Would I have followed Jesus—or stood with the Pharisees? Would I have worked against slavery—or argued that it was a necessary evil? Would I have opposed the Nazis, or sat by while they carted away my Jewish neighbors?
The more I’ve thought about it, the more it’s clear to me that I have no way of knowing. Statistically speaking, I would have gone with the Pharisees, and the pro-slavery plantation owners, and the passive Germans who closed their curtains and tidied their kitchens.
After all, there were no signs that dropped from the sky and said, “This is it! You’ve finally let things go too far! You’re now the bad guys!”
And history doesn’t repeat itself, so there’s no real help that way either. When Nazis came to power, no German had ever lived through the holocaust, or World War 2—so they had no obvious indicators that this was going to end up being one of the most notorious moments in history.
So I don’t trust myself to see the answer in my own socio-political analysis of the outside world. Millions of brilliant people missed those cues—and I don’t have any reason to think I’d be different.
But what I can do, I think, is deeply examine my principles.
When Jesus came around, preaching something totally unheard of and unprecedented—how could I have determined that he was actually speaking the truth? How could I have determined that the trusted religious leaders of my people were actually in the wrong?
When pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates both quoted the Bible, and science, and all the rest—how could I have determined which one was right? When the pro-slavery groups argued that it was a “necessary evil” or “for their own good” or “needed for the security of our society”—how could I have determined that they were arguing in favor of evil, and not reason?
When fascist regimes were spreading disinformation, manipulating the public into believing lies—how could I have ascertained the truth? When they kept pushing the public, inch by inch, down a slippery slope of accepting more and more evils—how could I have known not to buy into it?
These are the tests by which I refine and develop my principles.
If it would have worked then—when all my Biblical interpretation was telling me to reject Jesus, to endorse slavery, to praise Hitler from the pulpit—
If it would have worked then—when all my instincts were telling me to go with the flow, to endorse things I had formerly been against, to support injustices and oppression—
If it would have worked then—when all the information I was hearing told me everyone else was deluded, and had no insight of value—
Then it might be a principle worth having. It might be a principle that could guide me into the future, into whatever situation I might face. It might be a principle that was worth sacrificing for, or living for, or dying for.