Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More
What is right and what is wrong?
There have been three stories swirling around the news recently. One of the stories involves a well known Christian Pop artist named Ray Boltz. The other two stories have to do with two children from separate families. Each of the families is comprised of a lesbian couple and an adopted child. In each case, and in two different Catholic schools, each child was denied entry based on the fact that the parents were living in a way that Christianity does not approve of. Each school has a high tuition that the parents were happy to pay. This made no difference.
1. Ray Boltz
Mr. Boltz is married thirty years and has adult children. However, in recent years he became extremely depressed and was contemplating suicide. The reason for this is that Mr. Boltz had a dark secret that began when he was a teenager. You see, Mr. Boltz is a gay man and always has been. Believing deeply in his religion, his faith taught him that G-d would deliver him from his suffering. After thirty years he realized that would not happen. In fact, he became convinced that G-d hated him. His wife and children knew that he was very troubled but, even after asking him what was wrong, he denied anything and everything.
Finally, in 2004 at dinner he opened up to his family about his sexual orientation. Not only did his family not shun him but embraced him with even more love and trust. Then, in 2008, he publicly disclosed the fact that he is gay. Relieved of his terrible secret, he now believes that G-d does love him.
While Mr. Boltz lost many fans, he also gained new ones. He is now living in a homosexual relationship and has close and warm relations with his wife and children.
2. One year ago, in 2009, a child was denied entry into kindergarten at a Boulder Colorado Catholic school because the parents live in a same sex marriage. The parents did not deny that fact and placed both of their names as the parents of the child on the application. There was no attempt to hide who they were. In fact, the child had attended nursery school at the same school.
Now, in 2010, there is a case, this time in Massachusetts, in which the same thing has occurred. In each case, school and Church officials based the denial of the application on the fact that these families were living in a way that violates Catholic teachings.
Each of these situations is painful for the individuals involved. They also raise fundamental questions about the nature of homosexuality and the debate over whether or not it is a matter of choice.
Mr. Boltz is an example of a man, deeply Christian, who was convinced that his sexual orientation was a matter of choice. For thirty long years he lived the life of a heterosexual man. He hit the top of the charts in his category of music while being an excellent father and husband. He and his wife consider themselves to be best friends to this very day. However and unknown to everyone, Ray Boltz could not get rid of or leave his powerful homosexual strivings behind him. That conflict and his Christian and moral conscience brought him close to suicide.
From my point of view, what is most important in each of these cases is how people define ethics and morals.
John Kohlberg, a brilliant psychologist, followed the lead of Jean Piaget in his research on cognitive development. What Kohlberg did was to use Piaget’s approach in looking at the unfolding of moral and ethical thinking in people, from earliest infancy into and through adulthood.
According to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, children develop moral thinking from the point of being very concrete and self centered to being able to think in terms that include the greater good.
To develop his theory, this psychologist provided children with a hypothetical situation and asked them who was right and wrong.
The Story of Heinz:
The hypothetical story was about Heinz, a married man whose wife was nearing death from a form of cancer. A pharmacist nearby developed a drug that cured the illness but set a purchase price of $2,000. Heinz raised $1,000 and offered it to the pharmacist whom he promised he would gradually pay off. The pharmacist refused, stating he developed the drug to make as much money as he could. Worried about his wife, Heinz broke into the store and stole the drug.
Based on the answers he got from the children of varying ages, Kohlberg developed his theory of the development of moral thinking.
In other words, the younger children disapproved of what Heinz did because he could get caught and placed in prison.
Children somewhat older thought that it was important to be good and not bad. If they thought Heinz was being a good man by helping his wife, they approved of the theft. If they thought being good meant never stealing, they disapproved of Heinz. Most of the children at this stage thought Heinz was being bad because he broke the law.
At the highest level of moral thinking, teenagers and young adults applied deeply rooted values and principles to this situation. It is important to know that not every adult used the highest level of reasoning that Kohlberg talks about. There is nothing about age that causes someone to think in oral and ethical terms.
For those who did think in ethical terms, their greatest concern was not about potential punishment or breaking the law, but what their inner values were about. For people at this stage, the law continues to be important for the well being of society. However, for many of them, it would have been too guilt provoking to allow the wife to die when the drug could have been available. Law and order are important but so are inner values and morals. Worse than any potential prison sentence for theft would be living with their own inner sense of conscience if they had done nothing.
I am not a philosopher nor am I a theologian. In fact, I am not even a clinical psychologist. What I am is a licensed clinical social worker and certified psychoanalyst. Put another way, I am a highly trained mental health worker and writer. Based on these credentials, I am pointing out that it is a mistake to apply the usual intake regulations for entry into any type of private school based on who the parents happen to be.
I have known a very great many Jewish people who sent their children to Catholic schools because they firmly believed these schools provided a superior education. The admissions people knew they were Jewish and had no problem accepting the children. I have also known children from various Christian(non Catholic sects) who sent their children to Catholic schools with no difficulty.
I am also not criticizing the school and Church officials who denied these children entry. Rather, I am pointing out the difficulty people have with deeply conflicted areas of behavior and ethics. Instead, I am asking that each of us look at our own thinking while asking what we believe is right and wrong about all three of the cases.
In fact, why not bring in the “Heinz” story and ask what each of you believe about right and wrong? What would you do if you found yourself in that situation?
I look forward to your responses.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD