Thursday, August 18, 2005

Is there such a thing as a secular heart?

A reader's editorial in the New York Times, August 17, titled "Touch of Grace", praised the "startling and luminous" underserved gift of Ms. Victoria Ruvolo.

"It happened when Ryan Cushing, a 19-year-old charged with assault for tossing a turkey through a car windshield last fall, approached the driver he nearly killed, Victoria Ruvolo. Ms. Ruvolo, 44, suffered severe injuries and needed many hours of surgery to rebuild her shattered facial bones."

Remember this one? To my knowledge, the trial didn't make near as much news as the accident did. However, it made an impact on the writer of the editorial. But I wonder if he/she is denying the true impact it had.

"Mr. Cushing was one of six teenagers out for a night of joy riding and crime, which often happens when childish aggression and stupidity merge with the ability to drive and steal credit cards. The five others have pleaded guilty to various acts like forgery and larceny, but Mr. Cushing, who threw the turkey, could have faced 25 years in prison. At Ms. Ruvolo's insistence, prosecutors granted him a plea bargain instead: six months in jail and five years' probation."

"That is true. But Ms. Ruvolo's resolute compassion, coming seemingly out of nowhere, disarmed Mr. Spota and led to a far more satisfying result."

"Many have assumed that Ms. Ruvolo's motivation is religious. But while we can estimate the size of her heart, we can't peer into it. Her impulse may have been entirely secular."


Is it possible for this type of impulse to be "secular"? If you believe we are spiritual beings as well as physical, wouldn't this impulse come from the spirit part of us? I believe that the world is constantly confusing the physical and spiritual. If, in the operating room, you were to hold a human heart in your hand, there is no part that you can physically point at and say, "There is compassion."

And why deny the spirit? I think the use of the word "religious" in the editorial is revealing. It's a negative word in our postmodern culture. But look at all the spiritual words the editorialist uses. If the he/she is not "religious" and Ms. Ruvolo is not "religious", their actions and words show evidence, at least, that they are spiritual beings.

"Given the opportunity for retribution, Ms. Ruvolo gave and got something better: the dissipation of anger and the restoration of hope, in a gesture as cleansing as the tears washing down her damaged face, and the face of the foolish, miserable boy whose life she single-handedly restored."

1 comment:

San said...

Great question to ponder. I think people so often associate Christians with our belief in "orginal sin" (or the doctrine that "all are sinners") that they forget we also believe in "original glory." That is, we believe each person is created in the image of God and is therefore endowed with inestimable dignity and worth. Sometimes people move in response to impulses that are holy, righteous, and good, even if they don't believe in Christ. A soldier may lay down his or her life in an ultimate act of human selflessness, though he or she may be oblivious to the One who gave His life for all humanity. Even if God's will was not part of the person's thinking when he acted graciously, to label a grace-filled act as "secular" is to make an odd distinction indeed.