Even when I was still a consistent driver, I never paid much attention to bumper stickers. Aside from the minority that provide a cheap laugh, they seem to me like the most cowardly and ineffective way to make a statement. Every victim of the bumper sticker is left unable to make any sort of response; the argument starts and ends on a 12 x 3″ adhesive pad. The ultimate last word.
While I doubt the bearers of the stickers I saw while on my most recent monthly errand run really understood the philosophical and theological ramifications of their banners, some old concepts were brought to mind. A simple “JESUS is GOD” sticker brought a flood of memories of my childhood bible camp. Another “Jesus SAVES” led me on a long chain of thoughts; I’d nearly forgotten that the whole idea behind Jesus was that he’s meant to be saving us from something we cannot save ourselves from. Most people think of that something as being hell, but the more technically accurate answer is sin.
It is important to define exactly what is meant by sin at this juncture. Popularly, it’s understood as a descriptor of actions or motives (e.g. “murder is a sin” or “greed is sinful”), but the idea in this context is a state of being. The Christian belief is that all of humanity possesses sin from birth. Sin is the cause, not the the effect. Many take this a step further and propose that humans are fundamentally evil and incapable of performing good due to the taint of sin in our souls. Sin is described as the reason for pain and suffering in the world. We cheat, steal, lie, murder, and have premarital sex because of sin.
I felt a little awe as I realized in that very moment that I no longer believe in the concept of sin. It was an eerie sensation, to say the least. Without a doubt, I invested the greatest portion of my emotional budget for my teenage years battling sin – or more precisely, the guilt and anxiety that accompanied the idea of my sin. To look back and say with honest conviction that it was a waste of time is, well, disturbing. Then, to see how it caused me to view and treat others, and continues to influence my opinions on the morality of others? Shame is not strong enough an adjective.
In these reflections, I strive to see the grains of truth, to extract the pieces of useful insight that I can carry with me to other contexts. On an individual level, sin is nearly a plausible concept; we can all agree that no one is perfect, mistakes are going to be made, and sometimes we hurt one another intentionally and unintentionally. On a larger scale, however, the concept rapidly becomes inadequate. Can the problems of Detroit or Oakland be sufficiently explained by sin? Is it really enough to say that Pol Pot and all the people that aided his rise to power were just acting out their sinful nature? Insert your current or historical cliche of choice here. Regardless, I find the conclusion to be consistent regardless of the subject matter: it’s just too simplistic to explain and describe the intensely complex nature of humanity’s social and moral dynamics.
Perhaps what has come to irk me most is the cascade of influence the idea of sin has on societal structure and policy. If the baseline of human nature is evil, there is no incentive to work with human nature, and it is in our best interests to fight it at every turn. This proposition is almost intuitive in its own right when we consider that “doing the right thing” is often the harder choice. However, this wholly ignores the extremely real possibility that our existence is not destined or even meant to be this way. Furthermore, I have noticed that there are those that resist change in this direction on grounds that it accommodates sinful behavior. This has some pretty dire ramifications, particularly when the scope of examination is increased.
Consider the American dream as it pertains to a child in the projects. The mission statement of the American dream says that with enough hard work, this child can overcome his environment and become a successful (and perhaps even wealthy) member of society. It’s up to the child to resist the temptation and influence of gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy to succeed. The child must walk the straight and narrow and make the hard choices to come out on top. The American dream is there for anyone who wants it, but is realized only by those who “do the right thing”, those who ignore first instinct and hold out for the long haul.
Unfortunately, this assumes that each individual faces the same set of choices with equal weight behind each possibility. It is with this assumption that many Christians argue against the creation of strong social support mechanisms. If these individuals chose to take drugs and join gangs rather than go to college, why do they deserve help? If these individuals are making these choices because of a fundamental moral flaw, what hope do they have to change, now or in the future? When the only solution to the “real” problem at hand is Jesus, how can money truly fix anything?
I suppose I’m proposing that a belief in the concept of sin supports a highly individualistic and capitalistic worldview. This is not to say it is the sole cause, but I have reason to believe it could be a serious contributor. Certainly, there are genuine Christians who do not hold this view, but is it inaccurate to suggest a significant correlation? Anecdotally, I think not. The tea party certainly isn’t comprised of atheists.
If you’re going the youtube route, I strongly recommend bumping it to 480p – really sounds a lot better with the extra bitrate.