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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sin, Society, Violence and Responsibility

This is a slightly modified version of a response given to a comment on an earlier post.

The larger claim (the 'deeper question' as I phrased it) I was making in my post Getting Schooled? Violence in three movements - the claim which brackets the gun talk - is that America is a violent nation and seems to have become moreso in the last few years. I was ruminating on that and wondering where we’ve gone wrong, how is our soul deformed so as to work out this way? (So the risk is more a matter of being in the society than being in its schools.)

It is noteworthy that this is an American problem, not a problem for humans per se – other developed nations have nothing like the gun crime rates, nor overall violent crime rates that we do.

And my ruminations on Noah’s Ark suggest that, perhaps, at least theologically, violence is not the solution to violence.

So I am left wondering what can be done earlier in the process so we don’t get to the point of violence. There is disagreement among Christians, on Scriptural grounds, about the legitimacy of violence as a response to violence - although it would seem that all Christians, even those who espouse just war, must admit of limits to our actions, geopolitically and (presumably) personally. But Christians of all stripes would, I take it, be interested in the question of what gives rise to this violence, peculiarly focussed in one society.

Naturally, the answer on some level is that the problem is sin, and the response needs to be repentance, reconciliation and healing. I wholeheartedly agree. But sin is particular to systems and individuals, and the form of repentance, reconciliation and healing are just as particular. Given that violent crime – much of it between strangers, according to statistics – is so widespread in America, what particular form would these take for us?

Or to put it only slightly differently, what is broken and deformed in our system which prompts people to act out in this way? How might we even be complicit in this? After all, the ‘problems’ are not just those who act out, but also the extended social network by which they are formed and of which they are a part – and which they contribute to forming. The sin is not just the violent acting out, but also the sin done to a person to prompt them to act out, and the broader, systemic sins committed against a person. Sin begets sin.

Note well: This is not in any way saying that someone who acts out is merely a victim and not responsible – on the contrary, we are all victims and simultaneously we are all responsible. We are all sinned against, and we all sin.

So that’s the set of questions I am sitting with: what are the specific conditions of sin – and the specific shape of redemption and healing needed – in America today? At this point, I see the effects (violence) but am only beginning to grope towards an analysis of the causes in greater detail than ‘sin’ (which is universal, yet takes different characteristic shapes). I suppose in some sense, this has been an ongoing preoccupation of this blog ever since I began it.

Photos of rapeseed crops used in accord with relevant copyrights: uppermost image from Wikimedia commons; lower image from stock.xchng. Unfortunately, it is probably another 4 to 6 weeks for the local rapeseed to blossom.

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