It's "Election Day" in America and the headline in our local newspaper this morning read: "Low Turnout Expected for a High Stakes Election." The article went on to suggest that voter turnout is expected to be lower than usual all across the country, not only because this is a midterm election, but because people have become very apathetic and indifferent to government and politics nowadays. The article went on to speculate that voters have been worn down by endless mean-spirited political ads, are sick and tired of political infighting and gridlock, and debilitated by Ebola scares or fear of ISIS attacks. They ask themselves "what difference will my little vote make to fix this mess?" So they stay home.
I have been thinking about apathy and indifference on this "Election Day." My guess is that the newspaper article I read this morning made some pretty astute observations about contemporary life in America. Many people feel that this country and the world in general is one big mess and they can't do anything about it, so they shrug their shoulders and say "oh well, as long as I'm relatively happy, who cares?"
I often think twice before I use the word "sin" because this word carries so much baggage with it. Most people hear the word and they think of something you say or do that offends God or incurs "God's" wrath. But I think of "sin" in a much broader context - sin is something you say or think or do that breaks or ruptures relationships. When you cut yourself off from others and retreat into your own self-centered ego, you commit a sin, and so you certainly don't have to believe in God to commit a sin.
Traditionally "apathy" has been defined as a "deadly sin" along with other sins like greed or anger or hate. I actually believe that "apathy' may be the deadliest sin of all.
The psychologist, Erich Fromm, once said:
Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.
I think there is great wisdom in this observation. When I care so little about others that I pretend they don't even exist or they don't matter, it's probably worse than hating them. At least if I am angry with someone or even if I hate someone, I acknowledge they exist, there is some sort of connection. When I am apathetic, I cut myself off completely - it's a deadly sin.
I used to keep a little plaque on my desk in my office - a quote from the theologian Harvey Cox
Not to decide is to decide.
The plaque offered me a constant reminder that my apathy and my indifference are choices I make. My choice not to care about others, my choice not to work for justice and peace, my choice not to make amends with a person from whom I am estranged, my choice not to vote are indeed "my choices," and little though they may be, my choices ultimately count - making the world a little better place or just a bit more messed up.
So as I sit in my garden for my morning reflection on this Election Day, I am thinking about the choices I will make today. Now it's time for me to go and vote.