\Daughter Abby is a junior at the University of Minnesota. If you know anyone of that generation, you know they are attached to the Earth as much by electronics as gravity. So when Abby had her laptop computer stolen a few weeks ago, it was no small disruption in her life.
The laptop was on the front seat of her car in a parking lot in New Ulm. She thought the car was locked, but it wasn't. Someone took it when she had gone into a store in the late afternoon, just before dusk. The computer itself is several years old and does not have much resale value, although it did mean spending $1,200 for a new one.
But the value of stuff on the swiped laptop was inestimable to Abby. She had work from all her classes on there. In addition there was information from an internship she has, along with two jobs. It meant hours of time in her already full life trying to recreate all of it. Her exaggerated posting on Facebook (with a friend's computer) that night was "I hate my life right now!"
It's unlikely that any of Abby's discomfort occurred to the person who took her computer. It's unlikely he or she felt much remorse or guilt, although I can't know that for sure.
Put yourself in their spot a couple Saturdays ago. Maybe they walk around looking in cars all the time with stealing on their mind. Or maybe they just happened to walk past Abby's car and glance at the seat. The locks are visible on the '99 Sable and in a split second, they would have seen the computer and the raised lock. I doubt they dwelled on their opportunity; it was look, see, grab.
Most of us would not have pulled that car door open and grabbed that MacBook. For some of us the fear of getting caught would have been enough. This was, after all, not some darkened, empty street. For others, we might have thought about the trouble we would cause the owner and that would have been cause to walk on past the car.
For a lot of us, we just would have thought it was wrong. For those with some religion in their blood, it would not only be wrong, it would be a sin. There it is, after all, inscribed on one of the stone tablets Moses clung to as he descended Mount Sinai. In the seventh spot, we see that thievery is a behavior God frowns upon.
Whoever made my daughter's life temporarily miserable decided whatever gain they could get outweighed any of those considerations. According to crime statistics it was probably some old boy/young man who took it. And statistically they will grow out of such behavior. Fortunately most of them do. At some point, their actions become accountable to an employer and maybe a wife.
This is a small crime, and life will go on. But it did cause me to think about right and wrong. Most of us, most of the time, take for granted the distinction between a right action and a wrong action. But that notion comes to us from somewhere.
Now I'm going to risk sounding old. (At some point in life, you have a responsibility to sound "old.") In The World That I Grew Up In, the idea of right and wrong came first from my parents. It was reinforced by relatives, and then teachers, and then pretty much everybody in town. There wasn't much dissonance between them. The message was clear and constant.
It also was understood that these ideas had a source beyond us. Right and wrong was not voted on or legislated by other people. It wasn't invented by my parents or neighbors. We understood that it came from God, as primarily illustrated by the Bible. Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, etc. all had unique traditions. But we shared this idea that morality came from outside of us. From the Ten Commandments to Jesus' Golden Rule, it was a foundation we shared.
Today, fewer Americans are yoked to a religion. For an increasing number, the Ten Commandments come to us from history, and not so much from a faith tradition. That's a big difference. That's a difference between something being in my head and something being in my heart. I honestly don't know how one constructs a life without these bedrock principles. There are good people living decent lives without them, but it would feel like standing on shifting sand to me.
Years ago, I read the wonderful little book, "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis. In there is his classic argument for the proof of God that is based on the existence of a moral code. If there is right and wrong, if there is a universal moral law, Lewis says, then there has to be a universal moral lawgiver.
I am getting into deep waters theologically for my small brain here. But it rings true to me that a keen sense of morality is unlikely to have evolved by chance. Everyone from the young child who knows when something is "unfair" to a Supreme Court Justice has that implanted in them.
Some concept of right and wrong is in us. But then comes the day-to-day battle with sin, and none of us is immune. I might lose my temper with the kids. Or I might pass some gossip on that is hurtful. Someone else might take a laptop computer from a parked car. All of us fall short of our ideal self.