Wednesday, February 14, 2018

We've got a bigger problem

One of the useful aspects of contemporary liberal-left discourse is its emphasis on systemic wrong.  That is to say, ethics is not just a matter of considering my individual choices, or indeed the choices of other individuals; it must also involve recognising where the system is skewed in favour of particular classes of person or against those of another.  Inevitably that means asking questions about how, historically, we wound up with these particular systems: for whose benefit were they constructed, consciously or unconsciously?

This is helpful because it pushes the analysis of what is wrong in our world to a deeper level.  It's not just that certain free individuals choose immorally.  Rather, for many of us, it is that we are cheerfully complicit in wider immoralities.  The evil doesn't just arise from a few bad apples.  There is something wrong with the barrel.

As an aside, I think it's a shame that this point often comes so wrapped up in the language of identity politics and with so much ideological baggage that it is often unheard.  In Christian circles, particularly, I wonder if we could work on unpackaging this discourse, critiquing it from the perspective of the gospel, and re-expressing whatever is valid in terms of explicitly Christian theological discourse.  Liberal-lefty Christian friends, if your fellow believers are distressing you with their failure to get on board with the social causes which seem obviously right to you, consider whether there might be some value in doing this personally.

Here's the thing, though: the analysis still doesn't go deep enough.  Is the problem really the structures?  Is the issue really our history?  Isn't there a danger that this analysis leads us into a sort of hand-wringing guilt over our complicity, but actually at the deepest level leaves us remarkably comfortable - because after all, my inherited guilt isn't really mine.  I can still think of myself as a pretty decent person, especially if I'm fully engaged in all the Right Causes.

So, push it a bit deeper.  Yes, there are a few bad apples, in the form of obviously evil people.  But there lies behind and underneath that a whole network of systemic wickedness.  And under that - what?

It's just us, isn't it?  At the deepest level, we are guilty - not just in the sense of complicity in unjust systems, but in the sense of being part of a guilty humanity, given to evil, corrupt from top to bottom.  At the deepest level, we are Adam, and therefore we will die.  The biggest problem with our world is you and me.

Hence Lent.

But wait.  Did I say the deepest level?  Not quite.  Someone has managed to get deeper, the only human being who is really part of the solution and therefore not part of the problem.  At the deepest level, we are loved, forgiven, righteous in Christ Jesus.  It's really only when we know that - when we know ourselves as justly put to death in Christ and yet graciously raised to new life in him - that we can really do the Lent thing: really face up to the big problem.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff. The problem, for my money, is that what passes for the Left these days don't take their critique anywhere near far enough. There are no socialists in the full Marxist sense with any actual influence, just various flavours of captalism. What's curious about the New Left of identity politics is how it has dropped much concern over the nature of capitalism itself and indeed implicitly embraces it - 'why aren't there more female CEOs?' etc. They end up as pawns in the false dialectic of the great game, however well meaning.

    As you suggest, Christianity provides the resources for something far more radical. If only they were used!