COMMENTARY: Who Should Run Judgment Day _ God or Alan Dershowitz?

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(Eugene Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. His new book, “The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality,” will be published in the spring by St. Martin’s Press.)

(UNDATED) It is a terrible thing, the Scriptures warn us, to fall into the hands of the living God. It may, however, be worse by far to fall into the hands of all too living lawyers.

Whom would you like to review your file on Judgment Day, God Almighty or god almighty lawyers?

Wild-eyed preachers could not have summoned up a more dire vision of Judgment Day than that which has enveloped us in recent weeks. Judgment Day, run by lawyers, descended on all of us, sinners and saints, Democrats and Republicans, in what is liturgically known as the month of the poor souls. I thought that phrase referred to the sanctified dead but it refers to us, the living, in a lawyer-managed culture.

God’s Judgment Day will be far less harsh on us and we should not fear it. His judgments will finally crystalize around the truth of our lives, not the spin put on it by public relations or the caricature made of it by legal distinctions.

The worst that can happen to us in God’s all-knowing presence, is that our untruthful, self-applied layers of makeup and make-do will be gently removed and we will at last reach the goal of our lives: to become ourselves.

That revelation of the truth about who we are and what we really did for or to others will come less as punishment than as relief for millions of good people whose hearts were in the right place beneath the compromises and mistakes they made in life.

In short, God runs a sinner-friendly final judgment.

God’s judgment is a cure for, rather than a curse on, our imperfect ways. Life may be understood as a Stations of the Cross for each of us. We stumble and fall, get up and go on, learning something more at each crisis point about what we are really like.

Our small vanities will not be held against us. God is very easy on imperfections. Lawyers make a living out of them. And they count little compared to accepting the truth about ourselves that we have been seeking all our lives. The last judgment allows us to complete the process and enter eternity with the right identity.

Law, however, allows no such human understanding and reveals a slice of truth, if any at all, about us. Law has judged itself in our sight, because, in an era without standards, we have invested our hopes too fully in it as a source of ethics and morality that law can never deliver.

The recent weeks of accusations, writs, motions and maneuvers reveal that many lawyers are not interested in the whole truth but only in a part of it that they can fashion into a weapon. You cannot forsake truth and be set free. Only truth does that.

God’s judgment is freeing because he gently allows us to come to, accept, and forgive ourselves for what we truly are. We will see clearly, for example, when we loved less than we thought but also when we loved more than we imagined.

We need that final judgment to clear the docket of false imagery imposed in us when culture heaps all its sins onto the law, thinking that law can do the work of religion and morality that the same culture has abandoned.

When institutions lose confidence in their own ethical codes and procedures _ as universities, churches, the professions, and even athletic teams have in recent decades _ they turn to the law to shore up their authority and to make their decisions for them, whether it is to determine a failing grade, when the ball game can begin, or what the definition of “is” is.

But the law, even in the Supreme Court’s decisions (to which many look, as with abortion, for a moral judgment) cannot deliver the truths that, in the long run, we must define and recognize as our personal moral guidelines and our professional ethical standards.

American law, as the searing post-election experience shows, is essentially partisan: lawyers choose sides and act, not as authors of fairness, but as advocates for one party or the other. Their concern is not to effect justice or to make a more perfect world but to win at whatever cost _ even if it increases the imperfection of this world.

America’s indigestion is not from Thanksgiving. It isn’t even from the election. The heartburn and heartbreak arise from letting law take over our lives and transform its most essential human elements _ truth and trust _ to win at all costs, goals that will never be confused with justice.

Ask yourself a question. Wouldn’t you prefer God to Alan Dershowitz to preside on Judgment Day?


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