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following your vows

I just watched an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, in which our heroes take on a closed case because of a tip from a priest. The priest has just been at the bedside of a man in prison. The man makes a deathbed confession that he killed three people several years before. The priest tells the detectives that somebody killed three people in a certain location in a certain year but he can't tell them any more than that.

So the detectives have to hunt down the murders, then dig through the case files, re-investigate, and finally actually pin the murder on a person who happens to have died in prison the day the priest went to the police. During this investigation the priest is attacked inside the prison (he does not die) and many lives are turned upside down.

Much of this activity could have been avoided and the detectives' time used more productively if the priest had told them it was a deathbed confession and who had made it.

When the detective confronts the priest the priest says he took a vow many years ago.

I am a great defender of insane acts based on sincere belief. For example, a Christian Scientist who honestly believes the life of her child is in God's hands and that there is no greater doctor - I have to feel sympathy and understanding for this deranged woman. There are times, however, when we have to weigh consequences. We have to balance one "right" against another.

This subject came up in the audio book I read recently, The Year of Living Biblically, which I derided in these pages. You can read my book review of it here. I did not like the book but that doesn't mean there wasn't a thing or two to be taken away from it. One of those things was the concept of balancing commandments. Cases when you are commanded (by the bible) to do two different, conflicting things. Some extremely religious people are accused of finding two clearly unequal commandments as equal, adhering to a less important commandment while the more important one is ignored.

Certainly the consideration of so-called worldly consequences should not enter into consideration when a priest is trying to decide what course to take. Except where they really make a difference and where there really is a choice. The man was dead. What the priest told about his life will no longer hurt him. Doesn't the priest have an obligation to others? Did he forget that he was also commanded to help others? I am sure I could find a more specific commandment that he should have followed instead of the concept - not commandment - that the confession be kept to himself.

I have forgotten the term for the person who chooses the wrong course of action, the type of religious person this is. I'd like to remember it for future posts and conversations. Perhaps someone out there remembers?

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