Monday, March 23, 2009

Blues for AIG

I've been thinking a lot about the AIG "scandal" lately. Partly because Laurie and I are rabid NPR listeners and, like most other news outlets, they are squeezing every drop from that turnip. Or, rather, they were. They seemed to have calmed down a bit since the president went on a popular entertainment show and announced that we are going to begin practicing taxation without representation as millions cheered him on.

Yes. It's going to be that kind of a blog by the way.

But also because I've been teaching a class on the history of the Puritans. I felt that American culture and my own stack of misgivings behooved me to tackle the subject of the Salem Witch Trials fairly early on in the class. In studying for that class, the personal conclusion that I came to was that the trials had little to do with the religious group in particular or rather that the doctrines of Puritanism were kind of arbitrary as this is something that happens in small, isolated groups with 1) rigid, immovable dogma and 2) threats to something they find important. The witch hunts didn't happen because of Puritanism, it happened because of people getting worked into a very unhealthy mindset. I am not the first to make this observation. Arthur Miller's career took off from making this observation. And then he had an affair which lead to a marriage with Marilyn Monroe. With a later wife he had a Downs Syndrome child who he institutionalized and refused to have any contact with. All of which has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. Or does it?

I have an internet friend who works for AIG as a web designer. He is not getting a huge bonus. He is working for the most hated company in the world right now. I keep hearing about employees getting threats, fearing for their lives while simultaneously sharing everyone's privilege of fearing for their jobs. I hear about employees receiving anonymous notes saying that the author of the note is going to garrot them and their children. And blogs which show the AIG building in the skyline with some rather sinister invitations to less stable individuals which recall a September morn in New York 8 years gone.

And as for the AIG bailouts... I don't even know where to start with how messed up this has been handled by the media, the American public and the government. You think the banks and other divers and sundry lenders have mismanaged things? Well, wait until we get our hands on reacting to it. Taxation, contracts, way inflating the numbers to fuel public outrage, seeking any scapegoat and misdirection for a terrified and often recently unemployed or foreclosed upon public. On and on it goes.

Witch hunts happen. They are evil and sick and hateful, sure. But they happen.

Which brings me to my main point and that is that the concept of sin disappearing even from common Christian circles strikes me as one of the more disturbing trends I see today. I remember the point of my conversion when I was in my early 20s. The pastor of the Quaker church I was attending started talking about how everyone is a sinner and all fall short of the glory of God. And I remember sitting there thinking "This is true. I see this all around me and in myself constantly. This is the first theological point that has ever made sense to me."

There's another dangerous trend in Christian circles, actually possibly a more dangerous trend and without a doubt one that has been around far longer than the abolition of the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity, that I notice. It is the trend in Christians to say/believe/react to the world with "Hate the sin, not the sinner."

This is entirely unscriptural.

The problem with "hate the sin, not the sinner" is that it comes across to the sinner as hating the sinner. As Laurie put it it's like saying "I sure do love sin fountains. I hate the stuff that's pouring out of them all the time though." Sin is what a sinner does. We are all sinners. Scripturally it goes "Love the sinner. I am a sinner too no better than anyone else. I was saved by grace alone, by no work I did. I am no better than anyone else and I love you." No matter how good you become, no matter how sanctified you get, you are no better of a person than the most rank sinner. You need to love them. You are commanded to. And none of this "but hate the sin" crap. Don't make excuses to hate and don't use God as an excuse to have no contact with people you don't like or disagree with.

People are people just like you and I no matter what they do, how they live, or who they are. Get over yourself.

And I have to say this partly to myself. I like to think that I love my fellow man. But the street around my house has been discovered by the "homeless with a vehicle" population as some kind of safeplace. Our house is surrounded by jalopies. They sit outside of them in lawn chairs on the curb behind the motel across the street. They wolf whistle and shout profanities at everyone (including my wife and step-daughter when they are in the yard.) I turn instantly into Archie Bunker when they are around right down to referring to them as "dem bums" or "does bums over dere." This is a fault on my part (although my pride makes me hasten to add that these are not "hard workers thrown cruelly out of a job." These are people selling meth out of the vehicles. These are people who long before any of this started chose "public intoxication and public urination" as occupations.) I am no better than the worst of them (which is the guy with the mustache and the long hair.)

In short, there are a few things that we can be sure of. One, I'm fairly certain, we can be certain that the financial crises in our country is going to get worse. I don't know if it's going to get "rioting for food" worse or just "we used to have a million dollar home, now we are in a low-rent apartment and only have basic cable" worse.

And, another thing we can be sure of is the truth of the passage I am still working on memorizing:

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north;around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after."

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