I see a broken world

This week, I listened to a presentation that included as one of its main points the argument that the Western tradition has gone terribly wrong because it is too focused on fixing problems. The concern is that this puts an emphasis on seeing people as broken or fallen in need of saving rather than as whole and healthy in need of — well, not much really except encouragement.

As  I listened, I recalled the opening pages of GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a 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 seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

In my presentation and in much of contemporary theology — so far as I can tell — the fact that human beings are radically out of alignment with God simply does not register. Awareness of this fact — which Chesterton memorably calls the only part of Christian theology that can be empirically proven — is described as a kind of morbid negativity about humanity.

I have a hard time reflecting over the arc of Scripture — Torah, the prophets, the writings, the gospels, the epistles, and revelation — and finding much foothold for the notion that we — when left to ourselves — are well-grounded and responsive to God’s will for our lives.

I have a hard time looking at the world — especially beyond the little bubble of security that we all try to hard to wrap around ourselves — and seeing that people are generally happy, joyful, peaceful, just, merciful, and righteous.

I have a hard time looking in my own heart and seeing the image of Christ stamped there without any blemish or blot.

I’ve been accused of being a gloomy Gus many times in my life, so I’m aware that there may be people with a much more positive theology running around. But I don’t see the world looking much like the Garden of Eden or the New Jerusalem.

The world looks like a place that needs God to me, not just for some encouragement on the way but for rescue, healing, and salvation. God, of course, is at work already. All good comes from God. But the work is not done. The world is broken in need of healing. It is fallen in need of lifting up. It is captive in need of liberation.

This is how it looks to me. If I am wrong, God help me to see rightly.

David Watson: Humble church

David Watson digs up a GK Chesterton poem about humility and ponders the ways it is needed and unlikely to be heard in the church today.

These are beautiful words, though I’d have a better chance of being elected Pope than of hearing this hymn in a North American church today. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the language sounds archaic, which makes it pretty much of a non-starter in most churches. The second, reason, however, is much more significant: the ideas are archaic. It is a hymn of humility before a holy, judging, and saving God.

Read it here.

Lance Armstrong & sin

The Los Angeles Times has a piece pegged to the Lance Armstrong story about the universality of lying.

Though we profess to hate it, lying is common, useful and pretty much universal. It is one of the most durable threads in our social fabric and an important bulwark of our self-esteem. We start lying by the age of 4 and we do it at least several times a day, researchers have found. And we get better with practice.
In short, whatever you think about Lance Armstrong‘s admission this week that he took performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his illustrious cycling career, the lies he told may be no more persistent or outsized than yours, according to psychologists and others who study deception. They were just more public. And the stakes were bigger.

As I read this, Romans 3:23 kept leaping up in my mind. I also thought of GK Chesterton’s observation that original sin is the only part of Christian doctrine that can be proved.

As the story says in the next paragraph:

“People do it because it works,” said Robert Feldman, dean of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a leading researcher on thepsychology of lying. “We get away with lies all the time. Usually they’re minor: ‘I love your tie.’ ‘You did a great job.’ But in some cases they’re bigger, and in Armstrong’s case, he was pretty confident he could get away with it.”

It’s not easy to lie. Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that — initially, at least — deceit requires mental exertion for most of us. The effort to reconcile a lie with the truth — or with our notions of ourselves as good people — takes up so much brainpower that as we do it, we may actually forget to perform such effortless acts as blinking.

To sustain a lie over years, and against mounting evidence of its untruth, liars large and small must “develop an infrastructure around it,” Feldman said — a litany of justifications that makes it possible to cling to deception and convince ourselves that we are good people in spite of it.

“But as time goes on, it gets easier,” Feldman said.

So, sin is universal and it gets easier to do the more often we do it. I did not expect a theological tract while reading the LA Times. Maybe that is not what the times expected either. But I that is what I found there.