So I sit on the couch watching Thursday Night Football, cringing at the poor performance of the Denver Broncos, and alternatively trying to work on my writing and my reading. And then it pops up during one of those lulls in action. Spicy chicken nuggets from Wendy’s. My stomach rumbles, and I immediately consider the benefit of running down to Wendy’s and ordering some. The store is just a few blocks away, the nuggets are only 99 cents a pack, and I haven’t eaten dinner yet. I stand up, contemplating, and then with a sigh I decide to eat the leftover stew from the previous night.
Later, watching Fox News (because the game was just too depressing to watch, except the Broncos managed to pull off an come-from-behind victory after I had given up all hope), another one pops up. Maybe those of you who watch Fox News know what I mean when I say the channel seems to be a cross between talking heads and QVC. Every commercial break has at least one ad for some new device—be it the magic switch, or the magic shaver, or the magic plant-waterer, or the miracle hearing aid, or…. The scary thing is that some of these I’m actually interested in, and with a little extra money might actually consider buying.
It is amazing, really, how these things affect us. Back to the football example. I watch the games with enthusiasm, and as the weeks roll by, I find myself wanting to play. I find myself regretting the fact that I never played football in high school (I ran cross-country), and wonder if, as an out-of-shape graduate student, I could practice up and walk onto the UW Cowboys football squad.
This sort of thing happens all over. How many young people are inspired to be astronauts from watching documentaries of space exploration and actual shuttle launches? How many kids wanted to dress up as Harry Potter or Hermione Granger for Halloween because of J.K. Rowling’s books and the subsequent movies? I’m not saying these kids actually become astronauts or start practicing wizardry any more than I’ve begun lifting weights and throwing around a pigskin. But just as I’d like to be like those football players, they would like to be like the astronauts, or like the wizards, and mimic some of their behaviors.
There is, undeniably, a monkey-see, monkey-do effect that comes from the influences around us. That is certainly a reason why we need to be visibly Catholic and influence others by example. But it works the other way, too. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a recent study linked the amount of sexual content in a teenager’s television shows with that teenager’s high risk of sexual promiscuity and pregnancy.
Our parents hoped that, by living a good example, we would grow up and behave decently and make smart choices. That doesn’t always come through, just as children from abusive households don’t always become abusers, and children from fractured families don’t necessarily marry and divorce several times. But influence is there. People mimic what they see.
When someone’s behavior leads another into sin, the Church calls this scandal. The Catechism states (copied and pasted from here):
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.
2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.
Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.
2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”
I would ask everyone to strongly consider the influence and scandal that could come due to the passing of the Freedom of Choice Act, one of the first things President-Elect Obama promised he would see passed when in office. Then I ask the following: does any potential economic benefit, or any other bonus that Obama brings to the office, outweigh the scandal provoked by the blanket protection of abortion?
At the same time, I would also ask those of us (and I do include myself in this category) that are bitterly lamenting McCain’s defeat. Did the potential of defeating Obama truly outweigh the scandal provoked by voting for a candidate that is all for embryonic stem-cell research, and is only half-heartedly pro-life? Does it make any difference in retrospect, now that Obama won? What we view as the greater evil has now taken office, but it would it have been anything but a pyrrhic victory if the lesser evil took office, instead?