Despite being a young urban professional, I have found the time to take a night class at the U (Ancient Rome: Age of Nero). I wish I could say I am taking it completely for kicks and giggles, but I’d like to go to grad school: consider it a résumé booster.
Anyway, this last week I was given my first paper topic to write on: “What do you think was the worst crime committed by Nero?” If you don’t know who Nero is, no worries. He was a Roman Emperor in the 1st century AD and he was a pretty bad dude; on the same level of Hitler or Stalin.
When I first got this question I thought “Piece of cake. I can write 5 pages on this, easy. Boom. Done.” Now I am starting to eat my words with a fork and spoon. Not because I can’t think of the bad things he did (i.e. fratricide, matricide, patricide, rape, arson, theft, gluttony, pedophilia, and the list goes on…) but because 1. the man did so many heinous things at some point it’s ridiculous to rank one crime over another; as if to lessen the atrocity of Nero’s other crimes. I mean the dude was just pure narcissistic crazy.
And primarily 2. I am absolutely dumbfounded at how I should begin to give a moral basis for which crime was Nero’s worst crime. Because of who I am, namely a person consumed by the burning love of Jesus Christ, you would think that it would be very easy for me to argue which crime Nero committed was the worst. Wrong; it’s not. And I don’t think my loss of words are because I don’t really own my convictions as a Christian but because I don’t think there is any common ground for me to stand on with our culture for my argument.
Here’s what I mean: My whole undergraduate career I was inundated with the idea that Truth, whatever form it takes either morally, ethically, philosophically, theologically, is relative. Furthermore, this is not only the general assumption of Academia, it’s also the assumption of our culture (at least in mass media) at large. Sure, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say that genocide, murder, rape, theft, pedophilia, or the infringement upon another person’s rights aren’t wrong. I’d be surprised if anyone did. So with that in mind, it might be better said to say that it’s okay to believe what I think is absolute, but it’s not okay to tell others that I am right and they are wrong. And yet the question I got for my class presumes that a universal moral framework must exist in order to deem one of Nero’s crimes as the worst. Well, how the heck am I suppose to do that if our driving cultural assumption is that Truth and Morals are relative!? It’s as if I am being asked to show a person who sees in shades of gray the darkest shade of blue; they are just going to see black. The notion of it is just absurd; which is why I chose the picture I did with the two KKK clansmen. The irony of it is just ridiculous. I am hard pressed to think I could ever receive warm tidings from militant racists; let alone think I could ever convince the Entity that asks me to argue for absolute Truth when that same Entity assumes it doesn’t exist.
Furthermore, the fact that I am finding it difficult to articulate in words the worst crime committed by Nero suggests to me a deeper issue within me and our culture. That is, the inability to express Truth and Justice and fight for it. As I have already said, right now we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who finds it okay to infringe upon the rights of another human being; primarily because we believe “all men are born equal.” But what happens when our pendulum of moral relativity swings so far to the extreme that it begins to question the equality of men, women, and children? I mean the statement all men are born equal is an absolute moral truth, right? Who are you tell me that I have to believe it? If the trajectory of our cultural assumptions continues to progress the way it has, convictions on Truth and Justice will disappear. And when that happens, not only will we be unable to answer questions of what are the worst crimes, but we will also be unable to answer the questions of what is Good, what is Justice, what is Truth?
So the question becomes: Are you okay with Truth and Justice disappearing? What will happen if/when the moral fibers of Truth and Justice disappear from the fabric of our culture?