It was a couple of hundred centuries ago they say, that a man called Judas Iscariot walked into infamy when he betrayed the Lord Christ. Afterwards, they say, he was so consumed with guilt that he hanged himself.

Unlike the Lord Christ who rose from the dead, Judas did not; rather he only lives today in our imagination as a proverb and a byword for all that is unholy and evil. But he did blaze a trail that many follow, and have followed, ever since. This is the Judas Road.

It is important to remember that that Judas did not betray Christ to some street gang slinging dope in the ghetto or to the drunk panhandling on the street corner; no, he betrayed Christ to the most “righteous” men of the day. The most upstanding and self-righteous that the society had to offer. Perhaps this is why so many end up on the trail he blazed.

We follow the Judas Road when we betray what we know in our heart of hearts is true and good and right. They say Judas’s fee was 30 pieces of silver. At least he was paid something. Many who follow in his footsteps today do it for free. They do it for pride, they do it for prejudice, they do it for power. Sadly, they often do it in the name of the one who was betrayed; one could call that blasphemy in its purest form.

It is a sad commentary on human nature that men are so easily led astray. Manipulative politicians, charismatic cult leaders or just lynch mob psychosis has on many occasions made self-professed good men into monsters. The history of men is replete with examples of this, from Herod to Hitler, from Jim Jones to David Koresh and the priests who violated the sanctity of their altar (and altar boys) in more recent times.

But these infamous characters would not have achieved their power if their followers had not first betrayed themselves and what they knew to be true and good and right. Herod appealed to his followers’ vanity and lust for power and cynically used religion to browbeat the common people. Hitler appealed to his followers’ prejudice and desire for revenge. The priests relied on the willingness of people to take the word of a churchman over the word of a child, and so it goes.

But before one can follow an evil leader, one must first betray one’s self and the truth one knows deep within that self. When this happens the manipulative leader then has absolute power.

On other occasions cowardice and weakness are the price of betrayal. We see this when men in a bar gaze into their beer while a woman is assaulted on the pool table a few feet away. Or when men in a meeting follow a bitter old man and support his prejudice and racism even though they know better. But if they stood up, they fear they would lose their cool kid ticket. I saw this myself in person the other night.

The passions of politics, the vagaries of fortune, the hatreds and prejudice that lurk in the hearts of common men, any of these can lead to the sort of blindness of character that leads one to the Judas Road.

There was a time, so I have been told, when the term “gentleman” meant something. As a child I was taught that a “gentleman” was a man with a code. A man you could depend on to do what was right and noble, regardless of the cost. It was meant to refer to the sort of man who was worthy to be called “brother,” a man with the strength of character to fulfill whatever oath he made.

From the men who perpetrated the Birmingham church bombing, to the men who carried out that atrocity known to history as 9-11, are examples of those who followed the Judas Road, for they took innocent life. The men who stared into their beer and ignored the calls of a woman in distress are cut from the same cloth, for they failed to do what virtue and courage demanded.

As for the others, they find themselves in the gathering places reserved for men of low character. One finds plenty of these places along the Judas Road. They are the places where demagogues and false prophets find the followers of Judas willing to do their dirty work for a few pieces of silver, or maybe for just a stroke of their limp vanity.

Pride and prejudice, power and perversion, apathy and cowardice, these are the sins that lead men who consider themselves to be good men to follow the Judas Road. It is a daily struggle for honor, for virtue, for true righteousness.

Guard your character well, my brother, lest you find yourself on the Judas Road.

Fulton Arrington is a past president and current board member of the Friends of the New Echota State Historic Site. He can be reached by email at fultonlarrington@yahoo.com.

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