A little morsel gleaned from St Augustine by way of the banquet that is Sohrab Ahmari’s conversion story, From Fire By Water… “All false doctrines seek to negate man’s responsibility for sin.”
I was just pondering the same thing this morning as we were discussing the terrible epidemic of suicide in America. Drugged and drunk with booze and pills, Americans are killing themselves in record numbers.
The statistics are worst for white men between the ages of 35 and 65.
Beneath the depressing statistics is despair, and we often link despair with the lack of faith. This is true, but there is another dreaded disease in our society which has emasculated us all, and turned us into pansy zombies.
Along with the lack of faith in God is a kind of paralysis that goes along with depression and addiction, but that paralysis is exacerbated by a sickening torpor, a lack of initiative and drive among young men. The causes of this are complicated and manifold and I do not pretend to understand the whole answer, but I think I understand part of it. I realize clinical depression is a serious condition, and I’m not really commenting on that, but on a more widespread malaise of the soul.
For the last fifty or sixty years we’ve been indulging ourselves in a soft centered lie. The lie has been dished out by the psychologists and sociologists and secular theorists. It’s been sold to us by various ideological pressure groups. The lie is that we are not responsible for our problems. It’s somebody else’s fault.
There is a soft therapeutic approach. The sociologists say the problem is social. We’ve got problems because we’re low income or because we’re high income. We have problems because we grew up in an impoverished neighborhood or because we grew up in a privileged neighborhood. The racial theorists say our problems are because we’re African American or Hispanic or Native American and we are therefore disadvantaged. They might just as well say we have problems because we are not the member of a minority group. Indeed, that is exactly what is preached. It is the privileged people who have all the problems because they are rich and privileged.
The psychologist says we have problems because our father didn’t love us or maybe he loved us too much. Our mother didn’t breast feed us or maybe she breast fed us too much. We’re insecure because we were bullied at school or our insecurity turned us into bullies at school. We have low self esteem because we didn’t do well at school because the teacher picked on us or we’re lonely because we did well at school and that isolated us from other kids.
You see what I’m getting at. We pick over our problems like a little kid absorbed in a scab. We’ve thrown everyone to the therapists and they’ve dished out a whole load of hogwash that looks and sounds good to start with, but when you analyze it you realize it is simply a big pile of relativistic, sentimental, politically correct clap trap.
Furthermore, even if they do find a root cause of the problem they don’t have any tools to do anything about it. So you’ve discovered that you’re unhappy because your mom used to lock you in your room when you were being a pain in the neck. So what are you going to do about it? Without the grace of forgiveness what can you do about it except complain?
This is one of the reasons the church is in such a mess over the sex abuse problem. In the seventies and eighties when a man was caught molesting a child he was sent away for therapy. I expect most therapists took the usual route of trying to find out what the root cause of the problem might be and therefore looked for some way to blame somebody–anybody for the problem. Then when they discovered the cause of the problem they thought they had solved the problem, but finding the cause is not the same thing as finding a solution.
This sentimental relativism is a false doctrine, and one that according to Augustine, seeks to negate man’s responsibility for sin.
Sure there may be extenuating circumstances, but at the end of the day we are responsible, and it is part of the genius of true Christianity that we take responsibility. We grow up and we own up.
More than that, we not only take responsibility for ourselves, but the truly mature person begins to take responsibility for other people’s faults. How do we do that? We see ourselves and them for the sinners and fools we are and we embrace that too. We embrace it in laughter, compassion and prayer. We embrace it in suffering and identification with their faults as well as ours.
Cain killed Abel and when he was called on it he asked insolently, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The answer is, “Yes you are, and because you thought you were not you killed him.”
So why all the despair? One of the reasons is that we have not only been told that somebody else is to blame for our problems but we also have been denied the dignity and power to take responsibility ourselves. Because the fact of the matter is, beneath all our childish simpering and posturing we want to take responsibility. We want the dignity of being the masters of our own fate, and faith plugs in when we realize at the depth of who we are that we can do this, but only with God’s help.
When homeless people come to the door of our church office–which they often do because our parish is in the seedy side of town–they ask for help. We have help for them, but we also listen to their story then we say, “What are you going to do about that?”
Often they seem bewildered, shocked and sometimes angry, and sometimes I am blamed for being hard hearted. I’m not. I do want to help them but I want to also grant them the dignity of taking responsibility for themselves, and not to fall into the trap of blaming others.
Finally, it is my belief that this is the permanent and eternal state of mind of Satan himself. I think he forever blames God for his condition. I think he refuses to acknowledge his rebellion and pride. Indeed, that he is unable to repent, and that he forever sits and sulks and rages and pouts and pities himself.
Instead of that miserable state of twisted pride and pitiful bondage God calls us to get up, rise up and grow up into the full humanity of God in Christ Jesus.
When once we do that, when once we truly repent and turn to the power of the resurrected one we are truly on the path of Life.