I thought this was a thought provoking talk. Here is a summary:
ArchBishop Charles Chaput recently gave a talk in British Columbia and spoke of how the reaction to Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” has changed over the years. “The Lottery” is set in rural 1940s America. The story tells of an annual ritual festival which is meant to insure a good harvest. Everyone lines up and draws a ticket. This particular year, Tessie Hutchinson, a young wife and mother, draws the ticket with the black mark. It is made official, Tessie has drawn the black mark and so has been selected as the human sacrifice for the ritual. The villagers proceed to stone her to death.
Apparently a college professor named Kay Haugaard wrote an essay a few years back on how the reaction of her students to “The Lottery” have changed since the 1970s. Chaput’s summary:
“She said that in the early 1970s, students who read the story voiced shock and indignation. The tale led to vivid conversations on big topics — the meaning of sacrifice and tradition; the dangers of group-think and blind allegiance to leaders; the demands of conscience and the consequences of cowardice. Sometime in the mid-1990s, however, reactions began to change.
Haugaard described one classroom discussion that — to me — was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them. So Haugaard asked them what they thought about the villagers ritually sacrificing one of their own for the sake of the harvest.
One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice. Another said that the stoning might have been part of “a religion of long standing,” and therefore acceptable and understandable.
An older student who worked as a nurse, also weighed in. She said that her hospital had made her take training in multicultural sensitivity. The lesson she learned was this: “If it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.
… Our culture is doing catechesis every day. It works like water dripping on a stone, eroding people’s moral and religious sensibilities, and leaving a hole where their convictions used to be. Haugaard’s experience teaches us that it took less than a generation for this catechesis to produce a group of young adults who were unable to take a moral stand against the ritual murder of a young woman. Not because they were cowards. But because they lost their moral vocabulary.”
One can read the article to see Chaput’s suggestions as to what we should do about this (in a nutshell, we need to reverse the course of things since as its stands the culture is shaping Christians instead of Christians shaping the culture). But for our purposes here, I wonder if others think this reflection on to something.