No Rules for Radicals

We accept rules in cartoons. For instance, the late Chuck Jones, a prominent animator for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, established nine rules for the Wile E. Coyote cartoons. They included “No outside force can harm Coyote; only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products can hurt him,” “Coyote is more humiliated than harmed by his failures,” and “Gravity is Coyote’s greatest enemy.”

We accept rules in books. In J.R. Tolkien’s series Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books there are strict rules which govern which characters can do what. Readers quickly understand how these fictional worlds operate and accept the limitations that regulate the options.

In current life, many are trying to abolish all social and economic rules. 1950s Columbia professor Lionel Trilling, formerly Leon Schwarz before he abandoned his Jewish faith, yearned for this day. Trilling was startlingly honest when he wrote of the goals of liberalism. “To subvert the classic Jewish, Christian and natural virtues… to insinuate that what Jews and Christians have for centuries called sin is actually a high form of liberation.” HIs ideas prevailed so that today, among countless other examples, we encourage barnyard morality on campus while declaring that women won’t be degraded and harmed.

Politicians decree minimum wages and draconian governmental regulations in order to reward special voter groups and fear no fiscal consequence. The elites cut the link between effort and financial achievement and declare that people will keep working nonetheless. Only in cartoons and children’s literature do rules remain acceptable.

But in the real world there are still rules that we ignore at our own peril. Scripture reveals some of these rules with subtle language. For instance, I owe certain responsibilities and duties to my boss. Indifference to my supervisor’s pain or establishing an adversarial relationship with my employer will eventually harm me.

Ancient Jewish wisdom discloses this permanent principle here:

Moses said, “So said the Lord, ‘At about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt.’”  – (Exodus 11:4)

Later we read:

And it was at midnight that the Lord struck every first born…  – (Exodus 12:29)

Why did Moses say, “about midnight” when God intended to strike at precisely midnight? In the Five Books of Moses the phrase, “So said the Lord” is extremely rare. According to the ’rule book’ of ancient Jewish wisdom, that language reveals an approximation rather than a direct transmission of God’s word. Sure enough, a few words later Moses says, “At about midnight…”

Moses is protecting the reputation of his Boss. He feared that saying the precise phrase, “at midnight” might lead the Egyptians to miscalculate and try to ‘catch out’ God as it were, arguing that anything happening even one minute early or late showed God’s fallibility. By saying about midnight, Moses left the Egyptians no grounds upon which to challenge God.

Life is happier, healthier and more successful if we reject the common culture’s attempt to indoctrinate us into pretending that there are no rules. Manufacturing enmity between workers and bosses does not lead to productive and happy work lives. Natural law rules exist and they should govern the choices we make every day. Our best bet is to learn the rules and recognize how to apply them in every aspect of our lives.

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