Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Falling in with the Many

“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.”

Yes, it comes from the Law of Moses, and Christians are not under law. Nevertheless, there is a principle here that transcends time and place. It is worth observing and retaining.

Two different dangers exist when people start taking sides, especially when the numbers on each side are uneven. On the one hand, there is cowardice — by far the more common problem, which may be why “the many” are mentioned here twice. We can be swept along — by peer pressure, by the siren song of the mob, by fear of being excluded and shunned by our neighbors, families and friends — and lose our moral bearings, doing things we ought not to for the sake of appeasing angry people around us. The vast majority may affirm ‘x’, but that does not make ‘x’ right. The truth of any matter must be established on the basis of the evidence, not on the basis of popular opinion.

Partiality to a Poor Man

And then there is this other guy, the fellow inclined to be partial to the poor just because they are poor.

Okay, let’s stipulate that the poor man is more likely to be sinned against than sinning. The balance of probabilities is in his favor. The very fact that he has bothered to bring his lawsuit at all suggests strongly that he is in the right. Presumably his opponent is rich. He can afford to hire false witnesses. He can make a man’s life miserable. So why doesn’t this poor fellow just suck it up and be wronged? It would probably be less painful in the end than putting faith in the justice system and finding out it’s a rigged game.

But this particular man isn’t backing down. Here he is, mustering the courage to make his case even though he is probably tilting at windmills. Surely he must have the moral high ground.

There are many who are naturally disposed to follow the crowd. But there are also a few ornery individuals who are naturally disposed to pick the underdog every time, not because there is irrefutable evidence he’s in the right, but just because he’s the underdog. He comes from a class of disadvantaged people, the argument goes, so he stands as a proxy for some major social injustice in need of redressing. And maybe he does. It just doesn’t get redressed by further perversions of justice.

Merging Errors

On the face of it, our verse seems to describe two completely different wrong responses: cowardice and arbitrary contrariness. In our “woke” world, however, those two errors have merged, meaning that we are in danger of being doubly wrong. We may choose to back the wrong person simply because they are a member of a group perceived to be historically disadvantaged, then we compound the error by joining with a virtue-signaling mob in perverting real justice in the name of something else. So men and women who know better join with the chanting crazies in order not to be identified with the alleged villain of the piece. They understand that justice is important, but if doing justice means risking approbation, vilification, cancelation or even physical harm, then doing justice has gotten too expensive.

There was a report that the Kyle Rittenhouse trial ran into this problem, its verdict delayed because members of the jury feared for their safety. A deputy observed someone taking video of them arriving at the courthouse, presumably so they could be identified and either intimidated into delivering the politically correct verdict or targeted in the trial’s aftermath should they fail to play along with its desired conclusion. Regardless of your opinion about the issues debated during the trial, the pressure on jury members to flip-flop in the face of the evidence presented must have been considerable. It takes real courage to overcome the sort of terror a mob can generate.

Facts First

This is the psychological space in which #BlackLivesMatter but “all lives” do not — or at least we dare not insist they do for fear of being called racist. This is the same mentality that tells us to “believe all women” simply because we are told that as a group they have been historically disadvantaged and wronged repeatedly. But what appears probable to us given our experience does not necessarily reflect reality. To be just in the eyes of God, each case must be decided on the merits, not on the basis of our prejudices, or even a perfectly reasonable desire to even up the historical balance sheet.

Who has the courage these days to say, “Hold up here a moment, let’s establish the facts first”? It’s not common. But it’s definitely a quality God values in any age.

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