Unification News for

April 1998

 

More Unification Views

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, taking responsibility would be to exonerate himself. If he is guilty of them, taking 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 all 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 tales of outrageous litigation. Hereís another one: a woman left her horse in a neighborís field, without permission. She was told many times to take the horse away, 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 community is 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, conservative actions 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, a typical instance 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 warns, He waits, He tries to work things out; He always gives a second chance.

The tormenting questions concern the relationship between our suffering and our responsibility before God. If God is just, and cannot protect those who violate His commandmentsĖi.e who fail their responsibilityĖif we suffer, what commandment might we have violated? There are three answers. One is "narrow-minded": somewhere, somehow, you failed your responsibility and you are justly suffering. To solve your suffering, your disease, for example, the first thing is to get yourself right with God. 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 nor what our responsibility was. If you have a disease, donít blame yourself; just go see a doctor. This tends to pull us toward the third answer: atheism.


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 hung out to dry at the two most crucial points of providential history: when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and when Christ was on the earth.

These two points are the points of creation and re-creation of the human race. Suddenly, Christianity declares that 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 theology 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. Christianity is reduced to teaching that Adam and Eve followed the will 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.

Letís consider the issue of responsibility in relation to the event of re-creation, the coming of Christ. Let us assume, for the sake of moral coherence, that human beings had the responsibility to follow Jesus. That is the Christianís responsibility today, and, presumably, that was the responsibility of moral persons back then. Jesus believed this. He praised those who believed and followed him. He chastised those who persecuted and rejected him. At one point, he referred to those who did not follow him as spiritually dead ("leave the dead to bury the dead; you come and follow me").

If we follow what Jesus taught here, then, we would conclude that those who crucified him did evil, spiritually dead, and that those who protected him did good, spiritually alive. 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." The assertion that Jesus came to earth for no other reason than to die mitigates against the freedom of people to accept Christ on earth; i.e., to do that which Jesus was persuading them to do. Somehow the rules of the covenant between God and man changed during the life of Jesus, not with an abrogation of the principle that disobedience brings on a curse, but in abrogation of the principle that it is possible to obey the commandment. 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. Those who executed Jesus, quite legally, were victims of their social/historical environment. There was no crime committed. Such was the sovereignty of Satan.

But theology tells us that it was a moral 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 from the viewpoint of the predestination of his death, no one was responsible for this sin. Thus, irresponsibility is again integral to the dogmatic foundation of faith.


I hope that at this point, all Christians would cry out, "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. 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, 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. Jesus came to bring in Godís Kingdom, and we failed to accept him, and he died for that. Thus he came as a judge for 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 we rejected him 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 pure theological reasoning.

Two, we must reinstate responsibility in a thoroughgoing way. If a worldview denies human responsibility at the two events which define the human condition, then there is no way that it can serve as the substratum for a culture of 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 he messed it up!" Growing up is a process of accepting responsibility. Our culture has two areas in which to accept 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 can grow beyond the paradigm of the "man who cannot but sin but praises God that he is forgiven." Christ did not come to forever forgive generations of inveterate sinners. 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.


Jesus would surely be glad were we to move beyond the need of continual forgiveness, into the realm of Godís original love. In fact, he returns to bring us into this realm. If we did not accept the messiah then, 2,000 years ago, we can accept the messiah now. Accepting the messiah, we accept human responsibility in a thoroughgoing fashion, reaching back to the beginning of history.

Love is not achieved by magic. It requires the hard work of actually loving people and this takes responsibility. Since people are not perfect, and thus are not worthy of love, actually loving people means loving the unlovable. It is easy to love people when they are nice to us, when they are loving us, when they are good. Love comes to have meaning for growth when we love people who are not nice to us, whom we feel are hating us, whom we feel are evil, and may actually be so. This is what it really means to be a Christian, in fact, to be a devout person of any righteous faith or culture.

This is why marriage is crucial to eternal life. Marriage is the intimate, no-escape relationship in which we "love or suffer." Marriage is the crucible of responsibility.

The problem has been that the most righteous among us can and do love others, but receive mostly suffering in return. This is because we are not truly righteous; our righteousness is as filthy rags, as the Bible states. What Christ does on his return is give us the key to practice true righteousness. This does not remit us from our responsibility. It allows us finally to fulfill our responsibility. Fulfilling our responsibility will in turn create a culture of responsibility, a society of true love.

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