Saturday, February 23, 2008

More On Sin And Morality

A couple days ago, I related a discussion my wife and I had concerning the whole issue of sin and the Christian life. One of the points I made in our little talk was that I just didn't see any relationship between "sin" and conventional morality. I quickly added that I didn't think this meant that I would go off and kill people. . . . And she interrupted me immediately and asked, "Why not?"

That's a standard response, and on the fly I didn't have the kind of strong response I would have liked. I think I mumbled something semi-coherent, and quickly changed the subject. Yet, that was not because my position was wrong, or at least weak, but because I was tired. In retrospect, I wish I had said something like the following:

Why not? Because there are all sorts of good reasons why not that have nothing whatsoever to do with the questions of sin and salvation. Morality has its own logic, and can be supported without reference to any God. Being a moral agent is not the same thing as being a Christian. Being a moral agent means considering the integrity of other persons before one considers how one acts. Sometimes, being a Christian means disregarding the integrity of others, or at least their current sense of integrity, in order to push them to a deeper, or changed, or radically new, sense of their own integrity. In doing this, we violate their integrity, their sense of peace with the world and with themselves.

Moreover, the idea that God sent Jesus to earth to make sure we behave ourselves reduces the incarnation, death and resurrection to a cosmic birching. To reduce God's idea of the full human life to not doing certain acts, and the Divine promise as mitigated upon whether or not we are good or bad - that cheapens the message of grace, and the Christian life. Are we a community who are trying to live out the Kingdom of God in the here and now, or are we a community who are trying to make sure we don't drink, smoke, swear, or have sex in the wrong way? Are Paul's imprecations against "immoral acts" primary for the Christian, or culturally contingent pleas for living differently, indications of the possibilities inherent in living by grace?

If they're the former, I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about, because then God is nothing more or less than the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live, and I honestly don't want anything to do with a moral scold, divine or otherwise. Paul also said that Christians are to be all things to all people, and Jesus said that we are to be as wily as foxes - hardly calls to a conventional moral life.

If the Christian life is something lived not as payments on an afterlife insurance policy, but as the risky business of bringing peace and justice in to this world right here and now, then I think conventional morality kind of goes out the window. Part of what makes up conventional moral thinking is a sense of our security in this life and this world, with the moral life as a bulwark against the anarchy inherent in not being moral agents. Jesus calls us to challenge the false idols of security and self-possession (among many others), so it seems to me the first thing to go would be a demand to be upright and true.

The Christian life should be an offense to all conventionalities. That includes the idea that it exists solely as the reason why people are good and not bad. there are a whole host of really good reasons why we should live lives in which taking others in to account first is important. None of them mention God. Yet, when the demands of morality become oppressive, they inhibit the true freedom to which God calls us. Again, this isn't antinomianism. Rather, it is the idea that there just isn't any relationship between the life to which God calls us, and the whole question of whether or not we are moral agents. They are unrelated at the most fundamental level - they have nothing whatsoever to do with one another.

Kind of like the idea that there is no such thing as "truth" that adds anything substantive to a sentence, giving it more meaning than it might otherwise have, the idea that we need to be properly functioning moral agents, as our current standards define that kind of thing is nonsensical on its face.

Virtual Tin Cup

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