“I live without regrets” she said as she cooled the kimcheejigae, a spicy cabbage stew, with her breath then slowly slurped in a spoonful. “I think it is stupid to live with regrets. In life we make our choices, and they give us our experiences. What is there to regret when it comes to experiences. By the way, I think we made the right choice, this over danjangjigae (bean paste stew).”
“So then there is no morality?” I inquired.
“What is good? What is bad? It is what you make of it. If you accept everything, it is all good.” I don’t recall her name but we met through an English teaching program put together by the city of Seoul. They wanted native English speakers to teach conversation because the high schools were turning out college students who can red flag every grammatical mistake in a paper better than a New Yorker editor but could not carry a conversation beyond your scripted greeting. She was a young Californian, tanned skin, wide set eyes to match her spacious face.
She wasn’t the first one to say to me “I live with no regrets.” I have even heard it from Christians. It can mean live courageously, try new things. But behind it lurks a dangerous world view. It sees the world devoid of morals. It is a world empty of temptation.
We don’t need to turn every decision into an Adamic decision. Sometimes a fruit is simply a fruit. But sometimes, taking that fruit means we are disobeying God. And in that case, it is wise to see the temptation behind that offer and say no, to save our lives from regret.
I suppose to her the story of temptation of Christ reads like a fairy tale. That story belongs to the ancient world, the pre-scientific age where gullible people believed in spirits and demons. We have moved on from such superstition the way we have moved on from a geocentric universe. Science has simply told us things as is, and our world is not populated by spirits, good or evil. But with the spiritual realm, we have also thrown out the moral realm too. They are connected. Humans can live without spirits. But we cannot live without morals.
To deny temptations in our lives is to deny any narrative to our life. A story comes down to choices. Characters make choices. A narrative is simply the events that bring a character to a situation where the character’s decision reveals or forms that character and causes consequences to everyone else connected to the character. This is the basic structure of any story because it is the basic structure of the human life. It is not an artificial way of seeing. It is an artifice that simply highlighting what we see in the human life. That is, until we got this notion that there is no such thing as sin.
If there is no sin, then there is no weight to our decision. Whether we choose to expose the fraud of our company or go along with the fraud is not a temptation. It is simply a choice like the choice of coffee or tea, of a spicy or non-spicy stew. Our lives are simply series of such inconsequential decisions. They don’t add up to any narrative. It is a guilt free life. It is a way to live without regret. But then there is also no meaning. A life without regret is a life without meaning. There is no story worth telling.
We can’t sustain our life like that. We can pretend to be free of regret, but then we want others, especially those who hurt us, to suffer the sting of regret. That desire, as selfish as that sentiment is, at least exposes the truth that our life is a story, that we are tempted and our choices matter.
We have temptations in our lives. That is a good thing. Now, we don’t need to turn every decision into an Adamic decision. Sometimes a fruit is simply a fruit. But sometimes, taking that fruit means we are disobeying God. And in that case, it is wise to see the temptation behind that offer and say no, to save our lives from regret.
I saw the Californian girl six months later after our training. It was a reunion of all the native speakers. She was downing beers in tears because her boyfriend back in California dumped her, though she herself was seeing somebody in Korea. I helped her to a cab with her roommate. As we closed the door she slurred her words, “He is going to regret this!”