Unification News for

April 1998


Responsibility and Our Cultural Crisis

uViews April 1998

The question of responsibility looms large in our current political affairs. The president, Mr. Clinton, seems unable to take responsibility for his behavior or alleged behavior. Allegations swirl around him. If he is innocent of the accusations, responsibility would be to exonerate himself. If he is guilty of them, responsibility would be to admit the error of his ways. In either case, it would allow the ship of state to progress into the coming millennium.

Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Mr. Clinton throws himself into a conglomeration of legal, political and media institutions and allows their inborn nature of the balance of powers to eliminate the application of any authority with regard to his judgment. In other words, Mr. Clinton becomes a ward of the state, more broadly, a ward of the culture. The chief executive becomes the chief recipient of societyís self-healing institutions. The therapeutic society is designed for this. But it is, as we call see, a failure, for it absolves anyone of responsibility for their actions.

In traditional America, a lawyer setting up shop in a town was taken to indicate that the townís clergy had failed its mission. The phenomena of lawyers setting up shop defines our present social landscape. We occasionally read of outrageous litigation. Hereís another one: a woman left her horse in a neighborís field, without permission. She was told many times to take away the horse, but refused. One day the horse escaped the field, jumping over a low point of the fence. It caused an automobile accident nearby. The woman sued the neighbor for failing to keep up his fence. She won and the neighbor had to pay for the damages in the accident.

The real failure was the lack of community which led to such a breakdown in neighborly relations and lack of support among the larger group. And community rooted in religion.

If the wisdom of traditional America is correct, and I believe it is in this instance, this state of affairs results from the failure of our religious and moral institutions. Why did they fail? In the current issue of First Things, Wilfred M. McClay approaches this question in relation to the rise of "the ideal of the autonomous self" in our culture: "Was it implicit in the nationís very beginnings? Or did it arise out of some detour from those beginnings? If the latter, then when and where did the detour occur? If the former, then what are the implications for those of us who see that the ideal has now become pernicious and destructive?"

We would turn this question as to the failure of our moral and religious institutions as follows: were the institutions implanted at our nationís beginnings good, and evil people abandoned them, or were the institutions flawed and deservedly discarded? In general, the conservative position, on the right, would opine that the former position is correct, and the liberal position, on the left, would choose the latter. The truth as to the cause is somewhere in-between. But the truth as to the effect, the disappearance of our moral institutions, no one disputes.

The cause of our moral breakdown has everything to do with responsibility, because both the left and right have abandoned the tenet of responsibility. The conservative position, on the right, tends toward predestination, that all things are controlled by God. Injustice is only apparent; it is in fact decreed by God. God is sovereign and planned everything to be as it is. The liberal position, on the other hands, believes that everything is the hands of man, that nothing is pre-ordained. Both positions abrogate responsibility.

The right abrogates responsibility by assigning everything to divine determination. The left abrogates responsibility by assigning everything to social, historical and finally biological forces. A person, finally, is not responsible because his social or biological, including psychological, setting prevented him from doing other than he did.

The abdication of responsibility on the right is more subtle. In a way, it is rather abstract, the assigning of predestining power to God. To their credit, conservatives these days are not consistent with this doctrine. They do call for human responsibility, for example, for homosexuals to consider their behavior a choice, not a condition. They call for those on the welfare rolls to take responsibility for their poverty, and for sex offenders to do likewise.

The abdication of responsibility on the right is more subtle but just as far-reaching. Their ultimate abdication is than man bears no responsibility for the general human condition. Thatís a sweeping statement. Let me unpack it.

The conservative tradition in America proudly identifies itself with Judeo-Christianity. This tradition in general exalts human freedom and responsibility. The covenantal tradition of the Old Testament views God and man as partners. Consider Abrahamís negotiating the fate of Sodom with God.

It is but a typical instance of the entire story of the relationship of the chosen people with the Lord. If you follow my commandments, sayeth the Lord, you will prosper. If you violate my commandments, you will perish. Your fate, within the principle of creation, is in your hands. And God is forbearing, "flexible" in todayís vernacular. He warned, He waited, He tried to work things out; He always gives a second chance.

Then came the Christ event. For the Jews, things turned much for the worse. Within a few decades they lost the Temple and their land; within a few centuries they lost their legal status as a religion. For the most part the next twenty centuries were full of the suffering and deprivation of these good and moral people, culminating in the Holocaust.

The tormenting question for Jews had to be: did we fail our responsibility? If God is just, and punishes those who violate His commandmentsĖi.e.... who fail their responsibilityĖwhat did we do to deserve this suffering? There are three answers. One is "narrow-minded": yes, you failed your responsibility to receive Christ and you are justly suffering. A second is broad-minded: letís not jump to conclusions about this; God is mysterious and we donít really know why or even if He is punishing us and what our responsibility was. The third is atheism.

Questions for Christians are just as difficult, and the way Christianity has answered leads to the abrogation of responsibility. Christians like to posit that man is free to respond to Godís love or to reject Godís love. Here Christianity is consistent with the Torah. But this principle is left to evaporate at the two most crucial points of providential history: Adam and Eve in the Garden, and Christ on the earth.

These two points are the points of creation and re-creation of the human race. Suddenly, Christianity becomes jelly. We had no choice! We were victims! We were just doing what he had to do, what we were created to do! God knew we would do it and in fact, He wanted us to do it!

In the Garden we witness the first cover-up. In fact, human history started with a cover-up, and weíve been covered-up ever since. What did Adam and Eve cover-up? The same thing Mr. Clinton is covering up: what they did with their lower parts. They came up with the first human invention: aprons of fig leaves. Adam said it was not his fault, that he was not responsible. The woman, he said, whom You gave me (so itís ultimately Your fault, God); she tempted me. Thatís why I ate. Thereís really nothing wrong with me; it was her temptation. Likewise, the woman blamed someone else, the crummy serpent, who wriggled off to live on the dust of human veniality.

So history begins with a set of responsibility denials. But thatís not the only problem. The serious problem is that Christianity justifies their denial of responsibility by teaching that they had to fall, that it was no less than the will of God that they fall. Christians end up with the insane position of praising Adam and Eve for sinning. Christianity is reduced to teaching that Adam and Eve followed the will responsibility of God by rejecting the commandment of God. God becomes a silly fellow who commands His children to do the opposite of what He really wants them to do. This is why ministers rarely sermonize about the Garden of Eden.

Donít worry, it gets worse. Letís consider the issue of responsibility in relation to the event of re-creation, the coming of Christ. Human beings had the responsibility to follow Jesus, right? Thatís our responsibility today, and, presumably, that was their responsibility back then. Jesus believed this. He praised those who believed and followed him. He chastised those who persecuted and rejected him. Simple enough?

If we follow what Jesus taught here, then, we would conclude that those who crucified him did evil, and that those who protected him did good. And we would assume, since Jesus did try to persuade them to do good, that they had the freedom to do good and that to be responsible was to do the right thing.

Enter "theology." Theology teaches that Christ came to die. Somehow, therefore, the rules of engagement between God and man changed during the life of Jesus. It was necessary that he die, therefore, it was necessary that people kill him. If it was necessary that they kill him, then they had no freedom not to, and if they had no freedom not to, then they had no responsibility to accept him. The Sanhedrin were victims of their social/historical environment. There was no crime committed. The Messiah was executed by legal procedure. Such was the sovereignty of Satan.

But, theology tells us, most Christians, and all people who reject the contention that Jesus was a criminal worthy of capital punishment, believe that it was a sin to crucify Jesus. The Gospel writers felt such; John said that "Satan entered into Judas." Jesus called upon God to forgive those who killed him. The centurion exclaimed that they had killed an innocent man. Judas threw the blood money back at the Sanhedrin and killed himself.

But no one was responsible, and this irresponsibility is, as with the fall, raised to the level of dogmatic foundation for Christian faith.

I hope that at this point, a Christian believer would hear his conscience say, NO! We are responsible for the crucifixion. The whole human race is responsible and thus held worthy of death and hell. This is why Jesusí forgiveness and shedding of blood is so great, because it removes this curse from us.

To such a conscientious Christian, I would say two things. One, Jesus died for our sin, yes. But we can be more precise. He did not die for sins in general. Sins in general he could and did forgive on earth repeatedly. He died for one sin and one sin only: the sin of rejecting him, the one unforgivable sin. This one sin is beyond the vernacular of "sins." It is not just another sin, such as a robbery, an act of adultery, a murder, a lie. It is the sin by which we confirmed ourselves willfully alienated from God, because it is the sin of rejecting the holy spirit, rejecting God. So donít say that he came to die for sin. He came to judge the human race.

Judgment came while he was on earth. Had he been accepted, we would have been judged righteous and he would have forgiven all our sins and gone far beyond that. But he was rejected; we were judged sinful and nothing was forgiven. Therefore, he had to die. He died because we failed our responsibility. It was not the devilís fault. It was not Godís fault. It was not a requirement of theological reasoning.

Two, we must reinstate responsibility in a thoroughgoing way. If our worldview, the Christian worldview, denies human responsibility at the two events which define the human condition, then there is no way to institute a culture based upon responsibility. There will always be an out, a shrug of the shoulders, a pointing of the finger, a closing of the eyes.

True children take responsibility. Immature children blame others. "I hit you because you made me so upset! The house is a mess because she messed it up!" Growing up is a process of accepting responsibility. Christian culture has two big areas in which to stop denying responsibility.

One has to do with the fall of man. Our culture must take responsibility for its sexual behavior. Anything short of sexual purity, chastity and complete faithfulness (absolute sex) is a failure of responsibility. No more winking, joking, bending the rules, playing around.

The second has to do with the messiah. Our culture must go beyond the paradigm of the "man who cannot but sin but praises God that through Christ he is forgiven." Christ did not come to forgive a passel of inveterate sinners. That was John the Baptistís mission. Christ came to bring us into the Kingdom of God.

And this is what Hebrews 9:28 says he will came back to do: not to deal with sin, but to save those who are waiting for him. Stop praising Jesus for dying for our sins. Itís the ultimate in negative thinking. It keeps Christian culture stuck in the spiritual mud. It is irresponsible. Once we take responsibility for these two things, we can take responsibility for the world.

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