Sin, Evil, Inhumanity or Praise, Explanation & Criticism
John Horner on the Church said...
No, to find real blasphemy, we have to look to ourselves and our forebears — those of us who have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ, and then, in the name of Christ, perform acts that make him weep. When our Christian forbears used the name of Christ to justify slavery, used the name of Christ to justify the history of anti-semitism and the long line of pogroms. When we used the name of Christ as the reason for apartheid and Jim Crow. When we use the name of Christ to kill the Irish Catholic or the Irish Protestant. Or the Serb or the Croatian or the Bosnian. When we use the name of Jesus as the banner under which we picket the funeral of President Clinton's mother, or someone who has died of AIDS. When we get upset because the homeless are littering the sidewalk that leads to our church. When we expend more political effort toward getting a cut in our taxes than we do in making sure that the children of our country have decent food and shelter, and do it in the name of Christianity. When we do these things — that's when we should raise the cry of "Blasphemy."
"My name is George, and I'm an alcoholic", Salon.com (July 26, 2001).
It's that experience of utter hopelessness, or moments of clarity, or hitting bottom, at which some sufferers typically call out to a higher power for help and others seek the aid of psychiatrists, healers and scientists. The common paradox in all these experiences is that personal powerlessness is twinned with personal responsibility: You suddenly realize that while no one can cure you, neither can you cure yourself on your own. You need God, or friends, or an institution, or a belief system, or something — anything — not yourself. And thus begins, in myriad forms, the archetypal untangling of epistemological knots that results, ultimately, in an unaddicted ego that knows it is both profoundly free and profoundly interdependent. And that's the basis of a healthy society. For that reason, many recovered addicts view with suspicion systems of government aid that seem to prolong dependency and/or to shield sufferers from the fundamental hopelessness of their situation. Thus we would expect Bush, not just as a political conservative, but as somebody who's experienced deep hopelessness, aloneness in the universe and the need for God, to view welfare and other government attempts to eliminate suffering as simply, and wrongly, shielding people from their true problems, the recognition of which alone could catalyze deep change.
"The Public Square", First Things, (May 2001)
Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the "Catholic ghetto." That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: "Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself." The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.
"Why Do I Do It?'", Brill's Content (December, 2000)
I have lost many friends, and I've seen many more wounded — by snipers, by mortar shells, by land mines, and by crazed, Kalashnikov-wielding druggies at checkpoints. It has occurred to me that I have spent almost every working day of the past ten years living in a state of repressed fear... And then there's the nightmare of what we see: in Rwanda, piles of bodies being lifted by bulldozers after a genocide and dumped into mass graves — and the toughest of soldiers, supervising this, in tears. In Bosnia, little children being shot in the head. In Somalia and Ethiopia, the walking skeletons heralding those terrible famines. I remember once doing a live shot from a so-called famine camp in Somalia, in which I showed a man, told his story, and explained how ill he was. I suddenly realized that he was dying at that very moment. And I didn't know what to do â€” I didn't know how to move the camera away, how not to sully what was happening in real life. These images and these sounds will never leave me.
All Too Human (Back Bay Books: 2000)
Because I believe in original sin, because I know that I'm capable of craving a cold beer in a village of starving kids, because I know that selfishness vies for space in our hearts with compassion, I believe we need government. A government that forces us to care about the common good even when we don't feel like it, a government that helps channel our better instincts and check our bad ones. I don't think government is good, just necessary.
The LA Times (December 1, 1999).
After years spent studying the world's great philosophers and writers, of poring over the Bible, Talmud, Torah and other ancient texts, of discussions with inspired social and religious leaders, [Eli] Wiesel still has no answer to the question of what makes people good or evil. "I can give all the usual answers — education, home, parents, peer pressure. But these are just factors. The mystery of why people become good or evil is still just that — a mystery." But he has thought of one "rational approach" to ensuring more goodness in humanity. It is respect. "If I respect The Other for whatever The Other is, and The Other respects me for whatever I am, then there can be understanding and even great friendship between all people."
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 529.
Window down, transmission in neutral, he was gliding along, exhausted, under stars and sinking moon, driving at swimming speed, otter speed, watching the same moon-silvered riffles and silent glides she'd navigated moments before. And when he pictured again the way she'd watched him — one small, rounded ear up, listening to his babble, the other ear down, listening to the world beneath the asphalt, crushed and alive, two worlds at once — it touched something in him, unlocked something, and he felt himself fall through a kind of false bottom, felt he was driving now, down, into a vast, dark pool. A pool of sorrows, it seemed at first. And not just his own, not just crushed otters and lost Tashas. The stuff of small and large losses, and of recent and ancient ones — poxed kakiutl and napalmed Asians, leveled cities and leveled minds, lost tribes and understandings, broken bridges between worlds — it was all somehow suspended here. Immense sadness on all sides, yet immense depth -- there was room down here for all of it. And in his exhaustion he didn't panic, didn't try to escape, didn't close his mind around any one hurt. He just kept easing the Olds down through it all, thrashing on a gurney, Natasha laughing in a cloudburst, the one good paw scrabbling at the road. No matter how much he saw, more kept coming. Sorrows were endless; he'd always known this. But so, he discovers as he kept sinking and sinking, was the spaciousness of this great black pool.
The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (Random House : 1993), pp. 245-246.
A Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow," Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother's words, "told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can't imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother's womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mother's eyes. Doing it before the mother's eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They've planned a diversion; they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby's face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out his little hand to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn't it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things they say.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993), 27.
Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung say, "it deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993), 21.
The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don't need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.