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How Can They Live With Themselves?

By Carl S ~

There's an old story about a peasant who goes to a very, very, wealthy widow's estate. Admitted into her presence, he pleads, "My wife is very ill, my children are starving, and I have lost my employment. I am at the point where I'm considering suicide." The Woman looks at him and says, "Wait one minute." Then she calls for her butler and says, "Get that man out of here. He's breaking my heart."

Like all good jokes, there's an irony behind it. We understand the peasant and the attitude of the rich. From my experience, this attitude also applies not only to the wealthy, but to the Christian Right, and upper middle class Christians as well. None of them want to be bothered with dealing with the poor. You have to ask: How can they be sending their money to Focus on the Family, Priests for Life, to televangelists and the bubble-headed evangelicals they've elected to Congress, and ignore those unnecessarily starving and suffering and dying of preventable diseases who truly need that money? Isn't it because, "I've got mine," on Earth as I'm setting it up to be in heaven? They can sleep with that. They can live with it.

There's a question, a phrase used by my mother, which you don't hear asked very often these days. "How can he live with himself?" On a road trip yesterday, I tried to get my wife into a discussion about that subject, using examples of Nazi death camp authorities and con artists like Bernie Madoff. It turned out to be a non-conversation. Maybe this was due to the way I opened it, by touching a sensitive sore spot regarding a person we know. He is finding out about a spouse he thought he intimately knew. Naturally, I proceeded to mentioning betrayals by spouses, such as by adultery and in telling lies about the other. I wanted to know how they can sleep soundly at night, even live with themselves every minute of 24 hours each day.

If my mother were alive today, I would tell her that "they" sleep well at night, and even "live with themselves," comfortably. Maybe these questions are asked but the answers to them are not pursued because they're too close to home. It seems to me that each of us might ask those questions about our own actions, knowing what it means when we ourselves have done something that keeps us awake at night, or ought to, or experiencing or not the guilt that makes us too uncomfortable to live with it for very long. So we might ask instead, "Why do we have a gnawing, persistent, conscience, while others don’t, when it comes to the intimate effects our actions may have on others?"

In asking these questions, we may set aside some certainties. Knowing that psychopaths lack conscience, compassion, and empathy, this answers our question for this group: they just couldn't care less. In fact, this IS “normal" to them. Sure, their characters hold fascination for societies, ad nauseam. But aren't they a distraction from asking the bigger, avoided, question of how normal people can live comfortably with themselves while doing awful, even merciless things?

Perhaps one way they do it is through the traditional Middle East system: revenge, which is sweet and satisfying and justifying to them. In their own feelings, this is justified as a result of holding the true faith, an "eye for an eye" morality; but in reality, it's a kind of familiar, naturally flowing, unquestionable, sexual satiety.

Another way results from "knowing in their hearts with absolute conviction," that what they are doing is "for the greater good," even for individuals. This overrides any "mere" compassion or even caring. Those Nazi concentration/death camp operatives, and Soviet judges sentencing dissidents to forced labor camps and death, were eliminating or punishing "undesirable elements," not human beings! Likewise the judges and tormentors of the Inquisition and the slaughterers of Rwanda. At the end of the day, they sit down and laugh with their families at evening meals, and sleep soundly, ready for the next morning of acting for the "greater good." Aren't their sacred texts filled with examples of genocidal actors like them, who participated in this killing peace of the Lord which surpasses all understanding?

Psychopaths lack conscience, compassion, and empathy [...]: they just couldn't care less.There is no shame with the likes of the smugly smiling George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who are responsible for the needless killings of thousands and the mental damages to their own military members. And Pat Robertson and all those fat cat 24 hour evangelical con artists sleep very well, thank you They are even honored and admired; after all, look how God rewards them for their assurance in faith, look how much peace they have! We may also include pedophile priests and their covering-up bishops who saved their souls while damning the victims. And what of those double-life pastors, deceiving their congregants and indoctrinating children with dogmas they themselves don't believe; how do they live with themselves? Do they enjoy getting off on others? Do they smile in their daydreams, thinking about this?

Maybe these questions get passed over because so many people belong to - or turn a blind eye to - organizations which take it for granted that "certified" religious beliefs justify actions, no matter how heinous or anti-human they may be. Aren't those beliefs, those faiths, nothing more than people telling themselves and each other clichés with absoluteness? Ah, but the comfort of inerrancy is as volatile as nitroglycerine, always there, waiting to erupt in destruction of one kind or another.

I really, really, couldn't live with myself if I had to be such a true believer. Curiously, why is it that God is ALWAYS on the side of those who can? How could such a deity live with himself?