In the opening of the Star Wars trilogy, a planet is destroyed and the tragedy reverberates through The Force. This delineates the "bad guys" at the outset, because it is an act of evil for the reigning government to kill innocent people by wiping out an entire planet, even if that planet is held by the "rebels" intent on overturning their power.
The rest of the movie traces the difficult path of the "good guys" trying to stop the evil. In the end, the "good guys" defeat the "bad guys" by destroying a planet (which is named The Death Star to ensure that we all know it is evil). The victory celebration commences, and we are never told how many innocent families and children who lived on the Death Star were killed as collateral damage. Why did The Force not reverberate with the sorrow of so many innocent lives lost? Why was it evil and tragic when the "bad guys" destroyed an entire planet, but unambiguously victorious and righteous when the "good guys" did?
Of course, Star Wars is a movie. But how many times do similar scenarios play out in our world? On a smaller scale, most of us would protest if a houseguest packed our towels, pens, and robes into their luggage before they left, yet too many people feel no guilt in taking the same items from a hotel. If a clerk makes a mistake and gives insufficient change most people walk back into the store to make it right, yet if that same clerk gives us too much change we happily walk away with our little windfall. How many people cleverly hide income from the IRS, delighted that they are able to cheat the government by paying less tax than they lawfully owe, yet if someone cheats them out of money that is legally theirs they are indignant and/or take them to court?
On a global scale, Hamas is wrong to shoot rockets into civilian areas of Israel, but is Israel then right to rain bombs down on civilian areas of Gaza? The United States condemns torture and protests loudly when citizens (even if they are captured soldiers) are tortured, yet for years the U.S. has engaged in torturing people declared to be "enemy combatants".
Why are bad things only bad if someone else does them, but we excuse ourselves from culpability?
Of course, this description is over-simplified. Especially on the global scale, there are often complex moral dilemmas involved. In the face of a power-hungry and violent group like ISIS, for instance, whose members brutally behead innocent people on video, how far do we need to go to stop the madness and what measure of violence do we need to use? There are no easy answers. Yet too few people are willing to engage in nuanced, careful thinking about the moral implications of potential solutions.
The challenge of Jesus is to make moral reflection part of every decision we make, large and small, global and individual. We need to become conscious of the times we engage in actions we would deem "evil," "wrong" or "immoral" if they were done to us. Whenever that is the case in our personal lives, we have to be sure it is necessary, intellectually honest and humble enough to admit that we are doing it, and adamant about stopping it as soon as we reasonably can. Then on the global stage, we need to hold our elected officials accountable to do the same.
Moral and ethical dilemmas abound. Too often, careful and deep thinking, especially concerning our own behaviors, do not. To help live the kingdom on earth, we must find ways to better model our lives on Jesus, who unflinchingly called both his disciples and the leaders of his day to justice, integrity, and higher moral judgment.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.