Thieves, Moral Boundaries, Depravity and Stuffing Our Faces

For the second time in six months my daughter had her iPhone stolen. She was on a bus in San Francisco, going to work, when she noticed it was no longer in her coat pocket. I assume there are thieves who prowl public places, and particularly transportation systems, where people are crowded together and bump into each other. Most of us use our devices while waiting, so it’s really easy to spot the devices, and, more importantly, the place where the owner stashes it away when done.

Ah, an iPhone in an outside coat pocket.

They were smart enough to turn it off immediately to prevent her from tracking its location. That indicates not an opportunity theft, but a strategy, purposeful, organized crime.

Recently, there have been house burglaries in our neighborhood. About a year ago, somebody went through my car in my driveway and stole some pretty low-value stuff.

These events got me to thinking about what must be going on in a person’s mind when they decide they target somebody else’s property for their own enrichment. How does this happen? Does the person grow up without the moral code to understand that it is not right to forcibly take someone else’s stuff? Or does one become that way over time?

The German Communist Berthold Brecht wrote:

Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”

First comes food, then come morals.”

There is a subtle linguistic twist in this German sentence. The word “Fressen” is about food, but in a low, demeaning way. Germans have different words for the action of eating, “fressen” and “essen.”

Essen is what humans do. Fressen is what animals do. Humans only do “fressen” when they devour food, like animals.

While this is derogatory to animals, it’s a distinction in the German language. So what Brecht is really saying is:

“Stuffing our faces comes first. Then we might think about morals.”

So might morals really be a cultural and religious luxury?

In his book, God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens tells of a debate between Professor A. J. Ayer and Bishop Butler. In this debate, Ayer asserted that he saw no evidence whatsoever for the existence of any god. Bishop Butler broke in to say, “Then I cannot see why you do not lead a life of unbridled immorality.”

I wonder if this is a normal Christian attitude. Are Christians only behaving like Christians should because of the pressure of the penalty from god? If that were not there, do they imagine that they could just let it all hang out? Come to think of it, what was going on in the Bishop’s mind? What would he like to be doing that Christianity is preventing?

I serve no god, but I have no urges to behave immorally. I have no desires that the good Bishop might call “unbridled immorality.” Being an educated, civilized, responsible and cultured adult is enough to keep me from depravity.

Maybe it’s only because I have no problem stuffing my face every day?

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