just don't do it

From my experience with people for over 40 years now, my impression is that the majority of human activity is misguided, very often to a destructive extant. I'm seriously of the opinion that if people would simply cut their activity in half, the world would be a better place.

The thought reminded me of this story of Diogenes, the famous philosopher in ancient Greece:

A report that Philip was marching on the town had thrown all Corinth into a bustle; one was furbishing his arms, another wheeling stones, a third patching the wall, a fourth strengthening a battlement, every one making himself useful somehow or other. Diogenes having nothing to do—of course no one thought of giving him a job—was moved by the sight to gather up his philosopher's cloak and begin rolling his tub energetically up and down the Craneum. An acquaintance asked why. Diogenes replied: "I do not want to be thought the only idler in such a busy multitude; I am rolling my tub to be like the rest."


"and he answered me"

We're celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary this weekend, and I was just reading Psalm 34. We used these lines in our wedding ceremony; I remember choking up a little as I read them. This year I'm feeling them even more:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

This poor soul cried,
and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and delivers them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.



"Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction,
and there are many who take it.

"But the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life,
and there are few who find it."

So what's all this about us living in a "Christian society"?

Or thinking we'll ever build one?



the doctrine of "structural sin"

Another piece of a discussion on Jesus Radicals...

It seems to me that the doctrine of original sin shares many similarities with the modern doctrine of "structural sin." Both state that everyone is born into this sin. Both state that we bear this sin not because of anything we actually did or thought or intended, but as a condition of being part of the group we were born into. In the doctrine of original sin, this group is all humanity. In the doctrine of "structural sin" the groups are smaller, but it still ends up applying to everyone.

I think the doctrine of "structural sin," though, is more oppressive than original sin in one important aspect. Original sin, we are told, can be removed by forgiveness through the church, if we repent. Not so with "structural sin." This remains as long as the evils of the society we live in still remain. We can repent all we want, but as long as we are connected to society (through economics, consumption, citizenship, race, etc.) we are connected to and complicit with its evils. And it is impossible to not be connected to society in some way. Thus this "sin" cannot be removed from us, at least not in this life. I am not surprised that this seems to cause an unquenchable guilt in people I know who believe it.

How about some examples of how the doctrine of "structural sin" is commonly applied these days. This essay addresses racism and "whiteness." Not everyone is born into this sin, just those who are the same race as the dominant group in an oppressive society (in American society, this is white people). Certainly there are many, the majority, of white people who actively support and participate in this evil. But the doctrine of "structural sin" tells us that even those white people who disagree and even oppose racism are still guilty of this sin, complicit in this evil, because they benefit from the oppression by being given advantages as white people in this society ("white privilege"). This guilt remains for white people, according to this doctrine, until "white privilege" no longer exists in our society. For us, that probably means all our life.

In a recent essay concerning vegetarianism, the doctrine of "structural sin" undergirded the argument that we are all complicit in the suffering caused by the food industry. The author was encouraging us to minimize that suffering by not eating meat. But because of his belief in the doctrine of "structural sin" he had to admit that even vegetarians caused suffering because of the food they consumed, because everyone did ("even Christ," he said). Even the food needed for survival makes us complicit in this oppressive and destructive industrial structure, since we pay money for our food and that money is passed along to others, and that supports a system that causes serious suffering (and I agree it definitely does cause suffering). While we could possibly disconnect from the food industry by growing all our own food, we would still be guilty of the "structural sin" of all the other industries we buy things from. Thus for effectively everyone in our society, there is no way to get free from this "sin." Even if we repent and repent and even fight against oppressive industries, we are still guilty as long as we buy.

And I've seen other essays here that apply the doctrine of "structural sin" to our status as American citizens. Since this is a democracy, we are responsible for the actions of our elected leaders, since they act "in our name." Thus the doctrine of "structural sin" says that we are complicit with the evils perpetrated by our government and the military, even when they are done far away from us, ordered by officials we did not choose, even if we try to stop it. Because we are citizens. Though we did not choose this, we gain many advantages from citizenship, and if we accept them then we are part of this national society and share the guilt of its evils. We could renounce citizenship and go elsewhere. But citizenship anywhere would make us complicit in the evils of that nation, and there is no nation I know of that is not oppressive. So, again, it is a "sin" that we cannot stop doing.

I may not have gotten all these details exactly right, and I'm willing to be corrected. But I think the overall implications of the doctrine of "structural sin" are accurately presented. It seems to me clearly a more damning doctrine than original sin, because, effectively, there's no possible release from it.

Both these doctrines are false, though, in my opinion. I don't see anything like this in Jesus' teaching. They seem to both be inventions of institutional theologians, serving (consciously or unconsciously) to reinforce the power and control of society over us. In that, I see them both as opposed to the freedom that Jesus offers us.


the new slavery to sin: "whiteness"

From a recent discussion ("whiteness" here, I learned, refers to a socially constructed white racial identity utilized in the systemic oppression of those considered "non-white"):

It sounds to me that the usage of the term "whiteness" is still being connected with something innate, unchosen and effectively unchangeable, rather than just an ideology or institution which can be renounced.

For example, you say "Saying 'I have white privilege' is very much a matter of confessing before God and Neighbor our complicity in a system of violence and committing our lives to challenging that system." But white privilege, as I understand it, is an aspect of our society, something we are born into and which we cannot significantly change (at least not in any immediate way, and perhaps not in our lifetime). You suggest we can confess our complicity, but nevertheless white privilege will remain for now, and we will remain white in this society, benefiting from white privilege, unable to remove ourselves from this "structural sin." Or is that mistaken?

I hear Jesus calling us not just to continual repentance (of a sin we cannot get free from), but to actual freedom from sin. And not just in some far distant future, either. It seems to me that the ideology of "structural sin" (and the guilt that necessarily accompanies it) diverges significantly from Jesus' preaching about sin and the real freedom he offers.

How is this "freedom in Christ" experienced in lived reality? You speak of resisting oppressive systems, and I agree that may indeed be a manifestation of freedom in Christ. But despite these efforts, white privilege will continue for some time in our society, and we will continue to benefit from it (by "virtue" of being white). So does that continue to make us complicit? Part of the oppressive "whiteness" as long as it exists? As you put it, "We can never stop being white so long as white privilege exists."

Must we just continue to confess this "structural sin," or is there the possibility, now, of being delivered from it in any real way?

From what I hear you (and others) saying, the answer is unavoidably no. Though perhaps we can experience "hints" of freedom? That doesn't sound like the good news of Jesus' preaching to me. Or his lived example, and he lived as a Jewish male, privileged in a society that oppressed women and Samaritans.

I like much of what you say about the reign of God. I just think you're denying the present reality of God's reign with the ideology of "structural sin" that you also seem to be preaching.

I'm not challenging the ideology of "structural sin" because it is abstract or impractical, quite the opposite. I've seen what it does to my friends that believe it. A guilt that is continually imposed on us by a structure that we did not create and did not choose and cannot change and cannot escape, that's quite something to deal with.

It may inspire activism (with the limited and piecemeal freedoms that the political struggle can achieve) but it does so by denying the present and complete freedom that Jesus offers us. How can we ever be set free from an ongoing "sin" that we don't intend or commit? Guilt can inspire a lot of practical action, but that's not the same as the truly free action inspired by love.


"no longer shall they say to each other 'know the Lord'"

I think I'll use this favorite passage from Jeremiah 31 for our prayer group tonight:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to bring them out of the land of Egypt—
a covenant that they broke,
though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

No longer shall they teach one another,
or say to each other, "Know the Lord,"
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord;
for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more.



the new slavery to sin

Continuing the "law-based activism" discussion...

That's right, I was echoing and disagreeing with what I hear from many modern activists (and others) that seems to build a morality around our political and economic connectedness (as citizens and consumers) which unavoidably links each of us to the suffering in our world. As you suggest, the only apparent way then to stop contributing to the oppression and suffering is go completely "off the grid." Which is impossible. And so people are stuck with the belief (and usually guilt) that with almost everything they do they are contributing to oppression or suffering somewhere. There are suggestions about how we can reduce this, but we are also told there is no way to get free of it, for either the oppressor or oppressed.

This seems to be a morality that is clearly different from what we see in Jesus preaching. He certainly exposed and denounced sin in society, but not a "sin" that we could not stop doing, or a "sin" we could do with no knowledge of it or no evil intention. And he didn't seem to teach or demonstrate that following his way of love (and non-oppression) meant going "off the grid," did he?

Jesus also (as you seem to agree) announced the possibility of real freedom for those who follow him and trust in God's power to deliver. Not just "in heaven" either, but now, as he demonstrated in his life. The ideology of interconnectedness to oppression seems to deny that such freedom is possible, making it as much a message of slavery to sin as "the law" ever was.


law-based activism

From a recent discussion:

I can definitely see the compassion-driven aspect in much of modern activists relations to those they see as oppressed. And I support people's attempts to help those in need through their purchases (though I don't see filtering our help through the economic system as a very good way to respond to people's needs).

What I'm objecting to is what I see from many activists in relation to those they perceive as oppressors. Because by the modern rationale of political and economic connectedness, pretty much everyone becomes an oppressor through their consumption or their citizenship in a democratic nation. For example, in the article the author seems glad that Jesus "removed the guilt" from the poor that have to eat meat to live. But why would they even be considered guilty in the first place?

This assumption of guilt by activists, both towards themselves (as I've seen among my friends and people who write on JR) and towards those they preach against, seems to me clearly law-based. It doesn't matter what our intent is, only that our actions can be somehow connected to oppression or suffering somewhere down the line. This allows activists to tell everyone that they are causing suffering in the world ("even Christ") and use that culpability as a motivator for change. The "good news" you speak of seems to be limited to "you can reduce somewhat the suffering you are causing in the world."

That falls far short of the good news Jesus preached, doesn't it? He said follow him and "sin no more." And he showed it could be done by God's grace. Leaning on his power, we can stop oppressing others and break free from cooperation with the destructive Powers of society. And, as he also demonstrated, we who are oppressed can be really set free from the economic and political Powers that control our lives. That's some real good news, if you believe it.

If, however, you think Jesus was an oppressor too, unavoidably causing the suffering of others through his economic and political connectedness, then it will probably be difficult to trust him to show a real way out.


a different Easter

A couple days ago, Heather and I went to see a baby doctor. The visit was a bit surreal, because it was the same office, same doctor, and same equipment and examination room where a year ago we found out that there was a serious problem with Heather's pregnancy. She started miscarrying a few days later, on Easter. Everything was the same this time, but it was so different. As soon as the doctor took a peek with the ultrasound equipment, a baby popped into view. As we watched, it wiggled too, turning away from the camera. A little shy, I guess.

He or she looks a little bigger than we expected (though not actually very big). Probably will be born sometime in October. And we're about through the first trimester now, with everything looking good so far, so we're relaxing a bit. Relieved and joyful. A very different feeling for us this Easter.

The miscarriage last year really hit me hard, faith-wise. During the months that followed, I did feel like the experience helped teach me some important lessons, but I have to admit I still felt a little nervous about what God might do. We kept trying and trying to conceive after that and kept failing, which helped me recognize the importance of our trying rather than our success. But that still leaves us very dependent on God to do his part. In a way that will revive our faith and inflame our love.

It meant a lot to me that, without us trying to arrange it this time, Heather got pregnant almost exactly the same time of year as when we were trying to time it for the growing season. She'll give birth (God willing) right as the season ends this year. And several other aspects of our lives make it a much better time now to have a child, including finances and some important relationships with others. We're so grateful. And revived.


the bunny

Easter reminded me of this song from VeggieTales—the good, original, un-Parentally Correct version. About the beginnings of addiction to "the (chocolate) bunny":