Cliff's Edge

The Man Who Ate Cat Food

Who, what, and how are the mores, the values, right and wrong, sanity or insanity, determined in our society?

Clifford Goldstein

In college I wrote a short story, based on a newspaper account of a man who walked into a welfare office while eating cat food out of a can, called “The Man Who Ate Cat Food.” Though I knew nothing more about the man other than his eating cat food out of a can in the welfare office, my imagination took over, and the story went as follows.

Deemed insane by a psychiatrist, Frank had been locked away in a mental institution, where he believed he belonged. After all, the psychiatrist, the expert, had declared him insane. But Frank later read a newspaper story: that same psychiatrist had, turns out, committed suicide by gassing himself. This guy gasses himself, Frank thought, and I’m the crazy one? He then escapes, no longer believing that he belonged in the mental institution.

Who, what, and how are the mores, the values, right and wrong, sanity or insanity, determined in our society?

Who, what, and how are the mores, the values, right and wrong, sanity or insanity, determined in our society? Don’t say laws; laws merely reflect what’s already there. In Nazi Germany the law banned Jews from owning pets; in the Jim Crow South, the law forbade Blacks from sitting in the same railroad cars as Whites. The law simply reveals the hearts of those who make them.

What’s scary isn’t that values and mores change, but that Christians change with them, which could be good or bad, depending upon what changes and what they change into.Unfortunately, the Christian church hasn’t had the best track record transcending some of the more sordid cultural biases of whatever time and place they inhabit.

Yet amid all the shifting and shucking, we have been given eternal and transcendent moral absolutes, the Ten Commandments, an expression of the character of the Creator Himself. Not only that, we have that Creator (John 1:1-3) fleshing out those commands for us with even more clarity and precision—lusting as adultery (Matt. 5:28), anger as murder (verses 21, 22), those kinds of things—than were originally etched in stone.

However much we understand this text in the context of the “mark of the beast” and end-time events, how are God’s faithful people depicted? “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, NKJV).* Imagine if all Christians through the ages, not just in the end-times, had indeed kept the commandments of God as Jesus showed us to, as an expression of their faith in Him? Think of all the sordid and nasty cultural biases they would have transcended, even opposed, instead of being swept up in them.

In my short story a woman was sitting in the welfare office when the man came in, sat down, and started eating cat food out of a can. The woman freaked. Only a crazy person would do that, right? It was Frank, newly escaped from the mental hospital. So maybe he was insane after all?

Some things are hard to tell. Others, at least for Christians, shouldn’t be so fuzzy, not with the divine law from above etched in our hearts here below.

* Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.

Clifford Goldstein