Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip have that great song Letter From God To Man that brilliantly samples Planet Telex. And sure it degrades into silly gnosticism at the end but its a great song. I don’t have to run everything through the doctrine-scanner before I enjoy it, do I?
I’d hate to have to stop enjoying myself.
Anyway. Yesterday I went off on a bit of an ill-tempered rant. Supermacs were out of ice-cream and I was frustrated at something or other. Who knows. Facial hair growth. Shadows in my office. It takes very little to set me off. But at the heart of my appreciation of Miroslav Volf’s theology of reconciliation and my loathing for optimistic-believe-in-yourself philosophy of the kind advanced in the lecture I linked to is a sincere conviction that the world offers little if any hope for optimism. While I as a Christian pre-emptively defend myself against your underlying suspicion that faith is a crutch for the psychologically weak, the same suspicion should be applied to the easy sanguinity of the western world as it gathers terms like “reason” and “progress” as security blankets that keep them safe against the seething tsunamis of evil violence that rage in the darker corners of the world. That rage in part as the underside of their “bright enlightenment”.
Christianity has a series of dogmas. All belief systems, including yours, has dogma. It’s just we’re honest about it. And Jaybercrow might shake his head at my continued morbidity but for me, the simplest road into understanding history, the world and the truth is to begin with the dogma of original sin. Human beings are indeed capable of grand, stunning and overwhelming goodness. Le Sac and Pip say:
All your technological advances and the problems you’ve overthrown.
And all the beautiful art you’ve created with such grace and such finess
That isn’t the whole story, however.
But I must admit there are a few things that, I’m afraid, have impressed me less.
Maybe you guys can help me understand why we deny the existence of sin. Why are we shy about saying that sin is the best word going to explain this world. The gap between rich and poor. The needless deaths at the hands of curable illnesses and the needless deaths at the hands of excessive gluttony. Let’s cut to the chase. It explains death.
This goes someway I hope, to explain my uncharitable rant yesterday. In the lecture we were told that the salvation of the world would come through reasoned self-interest. Leaving aside the utterly absurd nature of that argument, it may offer a way to salvation but it doesn’t tell us what we need salvation from. What’s the problem that co-operation will resolve, exactly? What causes the conflict and the injustice? Where is the justice for the oppressed when we all live in inter-dependent networks? Why couldn’t the Hutus and the Tutsi’s slap their heads one morning and say, “Oooh yeah. Co-operation. That would be a whole lot better than genocide!”
To paraphrase Chesterton, original sin (roughly, the belief amongst Christians that given a choice between a difficult good and a straightforward bad, most people, most of the time, take the easy option) is the only doctrine that can be empirically proven. When talking about the modern fear to call sin by its real name, back in 1908 Chesterton wrote:
If it be true (and it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians [the truly modern way] seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
It may seem like an optimistic, a light, a bright and charitable belief to hold that people are naturally good and that we get perverted. Yet if that is not the truth then it is anything but. It is the most pessimistic, dark and condemning of beliefs to assert that a world waiting for redemption is a-ok. It offers no solace to the mother who dies holding her starving baby in the Sudanese desert. It positively assaults the anguish of a heroin addict as he emerges from an opiate-haze. The victims of history scream from the ground against lies like this. The darkness of humankind is so deep that the victims, in their own time were inevitably the aggressors as well. The only way to move towards a bright, light and charitable belief, the only basis for true optimism is true realism. And in that regards I claim original sin as an almost empirical dogma. It is the truth. It continues to be true even as those in power, the aggressors on a global scale, assert that it is a primitive suspicion. The powerful, that is us, need to keep saying that to keep our own sin at bay, buried in our sub-conscious, under our rationalisations.
Last words go to Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip. Musicians that my beloved fatso Chesterton probably wouldn’t have liked all that much. But I like them muchly.
You may think yourself in general to be a nice guy,
But I’m telling you now – that right there is a lie,
Even the nicest of guys has some nasty within ’em,
You don’t have to be backlit to be the villain,
Whether it be greed lust or just plain vindictiveness,
There’s a level of malevolence inside all of us.
Your Correspondent, Waiting for the beat to kick-in, but it never does