“I guess if everyone did everything they should do… the right thing…we wouldn’t think this story was such a big deal,” an Illinois man said recently after turning over to police $150,000 he found in his vegetable garden.
The media swarmed this guy for a few days, and he, like me, was puzzled that he got so much attention for doing the good and right thing. (Granted, finding $150,000 in a vegetable garden is definitely a story, but the man was praised lavishly for turning it in.)
If I found $150,000 in my vegetable garden or on the street or in my office building, I would turn it in. Wouldn’t you? Sure, I’d want to keep the money, but I know that morally I should try to find its rightful owner. If I receive too much change from a cashier, I give it back. Don’t you?
When I see “Reward for Lost Dog” signs, I think, “Now who would take money for returning someone’s lost dog?” The reward would be in the owner’s eyes when she saw her prodigal dog, home again and safe.
A recent New York Times columnist reported on a study that found young people claim moral choices are a matter of individual tastes. (If they believed in the “finders–keepers” tenet, then the $150,000 would be theirs and turning it in would not even be on the moral agenda.) The columnist wondered if young people have not “been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”
The columnist claimed, “The study says more about adult America than youthful America.”
What does the study say about the work of the church? Have we failed in our obligations as Christians to model good and right behavior? Have we failed to convey the Golden Rule?
Terri Lackey is managing editor of Gather magazine.