Thursday, July 10, 2014

Decency--A Boundary

In some sports, there is a great deal of “tolerance” as to what is allowed within the rules of the game. While cuts, bruises and scrapes, and sometimes even brutal roughness may be tolerated, removing body parts (biting off ears) is not tolerated--yet. As “sportsmanship” goes by the way that ethics and morals are going in our modern society, I really wonder if violence won’t become not only the accepted norm but the expected norm.

But currently, tolerance has its boundaries, its limits. Long ago we used to refer to these as both the rules of the game and the unwritten rule of “good sportsmanship.” Why are these both healthy and helpful? It puts all the players on a “level playing field” where the sport is fair, fun, refreshing. Although winning the game is an exhilarating feeling, a famous line in Ender’s Game highlighted another valuable insight. After Ender Wiggin realizes that he was not playing a simulation but had actually committed mass genocide on a planet, his commander, Col. Hyrum Graff, shouts at Ender, “We won. That’s all that matters!” To this, Ender Wiggin respectfully, calmly replies, “No, the way we win matters.” Yes, if players do not “play fair,” it demoralizes both the game and the players. At that point, you may as well just call a spade a spade. Its no longer a game, its a mob riot or just plain military cruelty where “might makes right.” There must be boundaries in everything we do in life, decency is one of those boundaries. Otherwise, we may as well just act like unreasoning animals--which, sadly, is becoming more and more commonplace today.

But why in the world would I be talking about sports, games and movies? No, it is not because of the current Olympic Games, although they are in the back of my mind. It is also not because I recently rented Ender’s Game, although that line in the movie did stick in my mind. It is because I watched a recently released video directed to all family members, fathers and mothers as individuals, parents as a team, teens and children. It highlighted how finding fault and placing blame on others will never make a family close. Each has to accept their own failings. But one point that jumped out at me was made in a conversation with the father and his daughter.

Rebecca, the daughter (middle teens), was slowly beginning to have feelings for “Justin,” a young man in her school. Justin seemed to demonstrate truly kind and considerate viewpoints toward all. Both Rebecca and Justin worked on the school paper together. When the subject of homosexuality came up as a topic for an article in the school paper, this young man felt tolerance, acceptance, and understanding was the best approach. While this seemed to make sense to Rebecca, something inside her felt that his viewpoint was slightly skewed but she wasn’t sure what it was that bothered and confused her.

Later, in a conversation with her father, she started to defend this young man and his viewpoints. That is when the father countered: “Tolerance must have boundaries. Decency is the boundary for tolerance.” To drive home the definition of “decency” from a principled, godly way of life, the father asked, “Does he (Justin) accept Jehovah’s standard of what is decent?” Then the father states that “if Justin accepts things that are outside the boundaries of Jehovah’s standard of decency, he can get you to accept them too.” Later, while at school, it appears Rebecca has had some time to contemplate what her father told her. In conversation with Justin, she says, “I learned something--true tolerance has decency as its boundary. We have to accept some standard of right and wrong. Without that, nothing makes sense. I try my best to live by Jehovah God’s standard of decency. And to accept anything outside of that boundary is a dead end.” Justin responds, “Why does everything have to be so black and white?” Rebecca replies, “It is not about black and white, it is about right and wrong--and loyalty.” In the ensuing conversation, Justin tries to convince Rebecca that the school newspaper is trying to make the world a better place. Rebecca says that looking beyond the moment, beyond high school, to what the real future for adulthood holds is more important. 

That enlarged viewpoint involves what God wants from mankind, not just what we want from and for ourselves. That is the crux of my article. This world continues to spiral downhill, sometimes in the most seemingly insidiously innocent, almost indecipherable ways. Therefore, those truly seeking “God’s righteousness” must first learn what that righteousness is and then strive to keep focused on thinking and acting the way he wants. 

Another point made in Ender’s Game was that the military at that time was intentionally promoting violent video games to desensitize, demoralize and embed killer instincts into the youth. That is already happening, but the source is not the governments; it is demonic in nature. The level of violence and immoral behavior, not only in video games, but also in movies is becoming ever more graphic. Nothing is left to the imagination. Shocking our senses not only of sight and sound, but also of decency is becoming so standard, that even PG-13 movies have considerable questionable content. But many feel that they can appease their conscience by rationalizing “well, it is PG-13, so it must be okay.” But decency is even lacking there. We each need to reflect, “What is my personal standard of decency? Have I let my guard down? Am I willing to raise it back up?”

Note: The movie I refer to was just released at the 2014 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is titled “These Words Must Be On Your Heart,” taken from Deuteronomy 6:6. Another video that is currently available about how this world can affect our standards is titled “The Prodigal Son.”


  1. I loved reading your article. I was doing research on the phrase of decency being the boundary of tolerance. Your article explained everything very well.

    1. Thank you. If you didn't see the video "These Words Must Prove ... Heart," here is the link:

  2. Bart,

    I was completely blown away by your article! Very well written.

    As you may know, it was recommended that we view the movie for a second time and coincidentally, I, too, was intrigued by that same line in the film. Even though some weeks have gone by since viewing it, I decided that I wanted to dig deeper into the reasoning behind it some more. Low and behold, I came across your article! That was truly something.

    Your ability to break down the mindset behind that scene in the film was excellently done. Thank you again for a well written article.

    All the best.