Sin, Change, and Politics
July 16, 2013
Here is an email exchange I had with a friend which I thought was worth posting here. Enjoy.
You once said in a class that what had adversely affected the nation was an underdeveloped sense of sin. How does an individual or a community come to possess a developed sense of sin? How ought an individual or a community in possession of a developed sense of sin reply to an individual or a community coming into possession of a developed sense of sin?
Good questions. Let me think about them a bit. I am not even sure what I meant when I said that the nation has an underdeveloped sense of sin. I think I said that once I had said this somewhat spontaneously and later came to think that perhaps I was on to something.
Perhaps it means that we don't have a sufficiently developed sense of transgression or transgressions. Do we moderns think in terms of transgression(s)? Or do we think we ought to get away with whatever we can get away with? Is this a "definition" of "success"? Getting away with whatever we can by any means necessary? If one is allowed to torture other human beings because it is deemed "necessary," what is it we can't do? Seems then that any notion of transgression goes out the window.
More of my response:
How does one account for change? This seems to me like a mysterious phenomenon, at least. We like to think that we are in control, that we can, for example, make schools better or eradicate the use of mind altering substances that we don't like by creating a policy. If we have an underdeveloped sense of sin, how did that happen? I could not begin to tell you nor do I think anyone else could. So it seems to me that your question about developing a more fully developed sense of sin is unanswerable, in the abstract at any rate. And I would also assert that any policy intended to accomplish this goal would fail or if it succeeded would do so for reasons unrelated to the policy.
This faith, all encompassing at times, in policy or policies has come to seem to me one of the delusions to which we cling because if we didn't we would have to face "real reality," as I like to call it. The world is a mysterious place, Matthew, and as Tom Robbins has pointed out somewhere, even the present is a mystery because "the future" has not arrived yet. For example, perhaps many of those who have faced war and have come back "scarred," as we like to say, have acquired "a sense of sin." They know, even if they would not articulate it this way, the meaning of "transgression," and they know it in a way that affects their souls. Perhaps those who oversee what we call "capital punishment" also acquire a sense of sin. Perhaps not, and perhaps this is another reason bureaucracy/government is relied on as much as it is, because it allows human beings to transgress while disguising this act even from themselves. [Possibility: Less bureaucracy = greater sense of sin.]
Having read some accounts of the Holocaust, a good case can be made and has been made that such a project would have been impossible without bureaucracy. Perhaps at a deeper level than just dealing with the pragmatics of executing so many people, this is what is meant: Only when enmeshed in a bureaucracy, could human beings transgress to such a degree and not go mad.
Anyway, this is what I think.....right now.