Crime and spiritual vigilance

THE neighborhood watches and citizen patrols springing up in some communities indicate that many people want to contribute to maintaining harmony. But there is a watch we can hold that is even more fundamental to crime control than watching for suspicious individuals in our neighborhoods--a spiritual vigilance that radically separates the mental darkness of criminality from the genuine nature of man. The conventional view of man as a fleshly creature with both good and evil tendencies, the latter of which are sometimes controlled only by a criminal justice system, may seem very convincing. But if, in our efforts to deal with crime, we consider menacing traits to be legitimate aspects of manhood, can we ever feel entirely secure? Public fears of crime sometimes increase even when crime rates are on the decline. Doesn't this indicate that our anxiety arises from the conviction that criminality is an actual power, which can create victimizers in the first instance and victims in the second? But the Bible's deepest insight is that good, not evil, is the true nature of man. In First John we read, ``Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.'' 1 At one time I had occasion to read detailed reports of crime: deeds done, motives and personality traits of those responsible, and the physical and mental effects on the victims. So vivid were these accounts that even though my neighborhood was not considered a high-crime area, I began to look over my shoulder during the day and to listen wakefully for noises at night. In other words, I took on all the fears described by victims of crime. At this point I realized that, just as a supposedly safe locale did not really shield me from fear of crime, neither did it exempt me from the responsibility to guard my neighborhood, in its broadest sense, from criminality. I took as a mandate to practice spiritual vigilance a statement by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science: ``Holding the right idea of man in my mind, I can improve my own, and other people's individuality, health, and morals; whereas, the opposite image of man, a sinner, kept constantly in mind, can no more improve health or morals, than holding in thought the form of a boa-constrictor can aid an artist in painting a landscape.'' 2 I saw more fully that, however strident its claims, criminality is the embodiment of a lie about man. Holding it fearfully in thought as expressing the actual nature of anyone, anywhere, is cherishing a boa constrictor--contributing to a climate of thought in which evil can be honored as veritable and tempting. On the other hand, vigilantly denouncing criminal tendencies as falsehoods and cherishing the spiritual purity of man--as it became my custom to do when hearing of crime--can contribute to a mental climate in which crime is increasingly viewed as unnatural for anyone. Throughout his ministry Christ Jesus showed convincingly that the spiritual selfhood of man cannot really be overtaken by evil, however murderous its claims may be. Jesus restored to sanity one who would today be considered criminally insane, walked unharmed through a mob about to stone him, and rose from his own tomb. The pure, Christly nature of man is the image we can vigilantly uphold. And we thereby contribute to a climate of thought in which criminality cannot control anyone. 1 I John 3:9. 2 Miscellaneous Writings, p. 62. 30{et

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