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As I was considering the dilemma which Judge Bryan may have faced1 between a safe and easy decision throwing out the whole mess (which he did) and making a radical decision for what is right but which would be harmful to his career and accomplished nothing (as it would be likely to be overturned in the Ninth Circuit Court where they will do whatever they feel like in any case). That is much milder than the dilemmas which soldiers (draftees and such) would have faced at the death camps during the holocaust. There doing what was right in the simplest sense would have led to being shot quite promptly with the killings going on unabated. In this case, only careers were at stake, not life or death, but the dilemma is the same. We are fortunate in that we seldom have to face even such serious dilemmas, but the principals are the same in even our lesser challenges.

The foundation of much of my spiritual thinking comes from Jewish theology. Jewish theology is particularly interesting as their scriptures are quite ancient (the Torah and such). These teachings were addressed to nomads in a lawless environment and are not easily understandable to those of us in stable societies with the rule of law. However, the Jews did not limit their spiritual growth to those ancient scriptures but instead developed a rich and varied theology. Sadly, there is no consensus of a single defining document for Jewish theology such as the Hindus might be said to have with the Bhagavad Gita.

I was reading a fictional work, part of the series that includes the book, 'Tuesday the Rabbi saw Red' where it was explained that reason we should do good, or follow our principals and morals, is because it makes us a better person. By following our best moral judgement we improve our judgement. However, when we ignore our principals we lose our ability to know right from wrong and become less of a person, more animal like, guided solely by instincts and desires. This was a source of much contemplation for me and became the foundation of many of my spiritual thoughts.

When it is a simple choice between doing right and wrong, for me it is a simple decison as I value my own self respect far more than any external rewards that immoral behaviour might provide. However, when there is no right choice it is especially troubling. As with soldiers in a death camp when the simple right choice is known to be futile, there is a serious dilemma. It is not our place to decide how things should be, but rather to try to make things better as we are able. But 'as we are able' also means using all our resources which includes our mind and recognizing what actions are likely to be ineffective and instead choosing a path that is likely to really improve things for the better.

However, in some cases there is no choice which is likely to make things better even when there are serious problems which are crying to be addressed (as in the extreme case of the death camps in the holocaust). By abandoning our principles and doing nothing, we do indeed become less of a person, losing our ability to distinguish right from wrong. By pursuing our own well being while ignoring the plight of others we are, in fact, making morally corrupt choices even if we choose to justify it with the rational that there were no alternatives, that by going along with others' plight for now we might be able to fix it later. The problem with such complacency is that often by the time we are actually in a position to really change things for the better, we will have inured ourselves to the plight of others and developed habits of pursuing our own security and well being at the cost of others. We may then have the ability to set things right but no longer have the moral judgement to do so.

So, the question is what should we do in those cases when there are no really good choices. I don't have any simple answers (as it is a treacherous situation), but caution against complacency. In some cases it could be that the best solution is completely futile opposition just because the wrong is so great, comparable to a soldier simply refusing to follow orders no matter what the consequences. In other cases this may not be appropriate, but some opposition is essential. In those situations, I myself rely on prayer backed up with some physical actions to cement my resolve. The actions may be just tokens, purely symbolic, but I have found that without actions, some sacrifice on my part, then complacency will seep in and I will become less of a person, less able to distinguish right from wrong. It is through actions and sacrifice that I avoid complacency and help maintain my moral judgement. In truth, the power to actually change the situation is never my own and all I can do is work on improving myself and doing what I can to produce a better environment. The outcome is out of my hands and my only responsibility is to improve myself.

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1 I don't really have any evidence that Judge Bryan considered this as any dilemma at all, but he might have considered it as a dilemma. My own reading of his decision suggests a couple of subtle points where he may have intentionally made his decision easier to appeal, giving both me and the Ninth Circuit a break, but then I could be completely imagining that based on wishful thinking.

This page was last updated on March 2, 2008