Big Laws, Small Laws

The other morning I was standing there in the shower when a little epiphany hit me on my soggy head. As I reached up for the shampoo bottle I noticed something my eyes had seen hundreds of times but my brain had never comprehended till that moment.

There are instructions on shampoo bottles.

Okay. So it was a really little epiphany. But bear with me for a moment and think about the implications of that.

You and I have been bathing and shampooing our hair for years longer than we were ever able to read. One would require a brainectomy not to know how to use shampoo. And yet, the shampoo bottle still has detailed instructions which begin with “Wet hair”.

Why are these instructions there? Why would a giant shampoo corporation pay big bucks to a technical writer to write and a bottle manufacturer to design a bottle with instructions that are the equivalent of saying, “Breathe in, breathe out”?

The answer is in three words: Fear of Lawsuit. The corporate heads that sweat over such matters at board meetings are petrified that some yingyang who is late for his Morons Anonymous meeting might just rub shampoo into his dry hair on the way out the door and then discover to his shock and horror that a) the shampoo doesn’t come out when you do that and b) there were no instructions on the bottle to the contrary, so he can sue the daylights out of the negligent corporation that failed to remind him to “Wet hair, apply shampoo, then rinse.” That’s why there are instructions on shampoo bottles. It’s the same sort of thing that drives companies to post warnings like “Do not drive with product in place” on those giant windshield thingies that keep your car interior cool or “Not to be taken internally” on hemorrhoid ointments.

About now, someone is probably thinking, “Gosh, thanks for sharing this valuable insight, Mark but, uh, isn’t this supposed to be a Catholic column? I’m not quite sure how to integrate shampoo, windshield thingies, and hemorrhoid ointment warnings into my prayer life. Help me out here.”

Okay. The reason I mention this stuff is because one Catholic duty (particularly during Lent) is to focus on our life and relationship with God in light of the Ten Commandments.

It’s like this. Many people think the Lenten call to examine our lives in light of the Ten Commandments is a guilt trip based on fear. But the reality is that examining our conscience in light of the Ten Commandments is the only ticket out of guilt and fear. Why? Because the Ten Commandments presuppose that we are to be taken seriously as moral agents who can choose both sin and virtue and be persons who act out of love, not just react as victims. The Ten Commandments treat us like competent grownups and call us to act like it.

The practical result of refusing to be treated like a competent grownup is to regard oneself as a helpless child who can only be acted upon. The practical result of that is to make everybody a “victim” and nobody responsible. And the practical result of that is guilt, fear and simmering resentment against all those “other people” who act upon poor me. When you sin, you can repent and be done with it. When you are a helpless victim, you can only whine and seek damages. Thus, growing numbers of sullen irresponsible adolescents of all ages are eager to figure out a way to sue shampoo manufacturers for not explaining that you wet hair, lather, rinse and repeat. And, in defense, the world grows an armor plating of shampoo instructions and legalese.

As Chesterton said long ago, when you get rid of the Big Laws, you don’t get freedom. You don’t even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

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