Communal Sin in the 21st Century, Pt. 2
Though we struggle mightily with the concept of communal sin in our 21st century context, it’s vital that we recover a basic understanding of wrongdoing that takes us beyond narrow individualism. How else can we account for grave systemic injustice in all of our institutions? Trying to lay the blame at a single person’s feet is not only naïve, it vastly oversimplifies the problem. In this six-part series, we’ll take a close look at some of our nation’s abiding communal sins, taking into account systemic racism, communal sin in politics, the church, the entertainment industry, and the workplace. Having traced these destructive patterns in our cultural moment, we’ll then turn to the biblical account of communal sin and see how it both makes sense of our dilemma and offers the only feasible hope. This episode considers the communal sin of corruption in politics, entertainment, and the workplace.
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Cameron McAllister: Hello, and welcome to the Vital Signs podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you so much for tuning in today. This is part two in a six part series titled, “Communal Sin in the 21st Century.” That first episode is really a must to set you up to understand what I'm talking about in this particular episode, and that first episode involved a look and careful consideration of one particular manifestation of systemic racism. And again, I give a lot of guiding principles in that first episode including a little breakdown of the format that we're following. And so very helpful contextual remarks, I would recommend if you haven't listened to that one yet, that you go back and do so. My hope is that it will prove to be challenging, but also encouraging as well and that it will move us toward a deeper discussion.
But I wanted to revisit one particular aspect of that first episode just and zoom in a little bit closer and talk at a little bit greater depth about why it's so difficult to have these conversations in the first place, to talk about something like say, systemic racism and then if we zoom all the way out something like Communal Sin in our 21st Century context. Now, mentioned, I'm beginning with current examples and working my way toward the biblical narrative. This is an inverse of what I usually do, I usually begin with scripture because it is my basic conviction that scripture ought to inform our cultural analysis and not vice versa. I still believe that, but in this particular case, I think it's important to begin where we're at with this series because communal sin sounds foreign to many of us, not to all of us.
I also mentioned in the last episode that a lot of what I'm outlining there, specifically regarding systemic racism in that case, will come as news to some, may even seem provocative and shocking and over political to some, but for others there's nothing new about it. It's their lived experience day to day and I know that some of you, listeners find yourselves in various spaces here. Some of you do hear this as something genuinely new, maybe it does push you a little bit. And some of you, this is nothing new, this is indeed your experience and this is what you see, have seen and continue to see.
And so I'm aware some of the diversity in the audience here makes for a complex maneuvering strategy for me as I navigate some of these topics. But I think it's important to begin here in our current context because I think communal sin actually makes a whole lot more sense to us than we realize all we have to do is just go below the surface when it comes to some of the issues that we're dealing with in our society, and then I think we quickly begin to see, "Oh, my goodness, there's more going on here." And it's the idea of placing the blame at one particular person's feet when it comes to some of these major institutional forms of injustice or corruption really is not only naive and short sided, but actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense because there's more going on, there's more participation happening, some of it very active, some of it very passive.
We'll touch on those themes again and indeed we'll repeat some of those themes throughout these episodes, but I think it'd be helpful for you to hear that in that first episode. But here's what I want to revisit again, I mentioned, I began with a caveat saying that because of my particular place I occupy in society as a person who is white, male and middle-class, that this brings certain limitations into the discussion, but that it doesn't shut the discussion down entirely. But for many people that does represent such a stark challenge that we can't really overcome it. For many people, some of these differences in our experience, in our backgrounds, be the ethnic, socio-economic or religious, some of these experiences, they don't just constitute deep differences between us, but they actually constitute unbridgeable divides. Because each of us, sort of thinking goes, is so ingrained, so inhabits their particular experiences and knows from the inside there those particular experiences, or the experiences of their particular group that they can speak and they alone can speak with a degree of authority that nobody else can.
If you're a person who's in the military, if you're a soldier, you have experiences that are very unique in many ways. They're not the experiences of every single person. And some of you have gone through degrees of suffering that your average civilian simply cannot relate to. But does that mean that there's an unbridgeable divide now between you and civilians? Some people, whether they spell this out in an explicit philosophy or not, some people would say, "Yes, there is an unbridgeable quality." And indeed, of course, many members of our military have suffered from varying degrees of not only PTSD and all sorts of injuries and psychological wounds, but a feeling of deep isolation and alienation when it comes to those who do not share in their experiences.
And you can talk to members of other groups and you will find this same kind of phenomena where people feel isolated and they feel that there is an unbridgeable gap between their own experiences and those who have not directly experienced what they have. So is there this unbridgeable gap? If there is really an unbridgeable gap for us when it comes to membership and different groups, whether it's religious affiliation or whether it's the Institute of the Military, whatever it is, if those...if we are all enshrined in our experiences to such a degree that we alone can speak with authority on them and those who have not directly experienced what we have can't, then we really are going to deal with serious isolation. And the conversation about corporate evil of any kind or communal sin really does come to a standstill. We reach this impasse. And so what's behind that? What's behind that impasse?
And I want to talk about that for just a second because I think that will help give us a bearings as we talk about communal sin as well, because this is a philosophical assumption that many people hold today, and again, the most powerful philosophical assumptions that we hold are the tacit ones, right? The ones that we don't even realize we're holding, we just simply take them for granted. And this is one of them. So I'm going to spell that out a little bit and this runs the risk of sounding a tiny bit academic for just a second, but I think it has deeply practical implications.
And I mentioned this a little bit in the first episode. But the thinking behind this hyper individualistic assessment of our experiences is really nominalism. This is actually a philosophical disposition. It's a philosophical assumption and it has very widespread implications though. And it's actually...it has its origins with a medieval thinker actually, and it's interesting because often when you think about major ideas that have sometimes deeply misguided consequences, you follow the train all the way back to the end of the line. And you come across not some evil genius of course, but you come across a mild mannered scholar often with the best of intentions and that's certainly the case with nominalism, and I can't possibly do full justice to nominalism here, it's actually a deeply subtle and powerful philosophical line of thinking. But the particular person I have in mind here, and I'm drawing my thinking from Hans Boersma's book, Sacramental Theology, but the person I have in mind here and the person that Boersma has in mind when it comes to our modern takes on nominalism is William of Ockham.
And of course, the father of nominalism, by the way, is Peter Abelard, who was one of the great scholars of the 12th century and was certainly a towering genius and brilliant man in his own right. But William of Ockham, most famous for Occam's Razor, so if you've ever heard of the Principle of Occam's Razor of going with the simplest explanation, shaving off superfluous, unneeded complications, this is that Ockham, William of Ockham. But what William of Ockham does is he takes issue, and again, I'm painting in general terms here is something that is a whole lot more sophisticated when you actually dive into it. But what he does is he takes issue with universal categories.
The most obvious example that I'll use here and the one most pertinent to our discussion is take the category of humanity. Right? Now, if you think for instance that you and another person are very similar, but your similarities go beyond just superficial similarities that is you're members of maybe the same group or something like that, but that there's some essential binding link between you and this other person and maybe you think of it in terms of common humanity, well, then you're thinking in universal terms.
But if you think that, "No, a term like universal like humanity is just really nothing more than an organizing verbal principle of some kind, but it's a broad generalization, it's abstract, but it can guide our thinking when we talk about society and cooperation among various human beings across the globe." But it's really just sort of a stand in because there's really no deep essential commonality between other human beings, what we have is a collection of vastly different individuals. And yes, there's some striking similarities biologically speaking, but there's no essential similarities. There's no universal thread running through all persons all over the globe. In fact, when we actually zoom in and we look at the circumstances of their lives, we find that they are vastly different. They're different in terms of their ethnic backgrounds, they're different in their religious convictions or lack thereof, they're different in their life circumstances and their socio-economic backgrounds, all of that, you name it.
The larger hope of nominalism broadly speaking was to really honor specificity and truly honor diversity and to refuse broad generalizations. But so I reject nominalism and here's why, because in the end, I do think that there are universal categories and that they mean something, and I'm only going to speak with regard to human beings. So I do think that humanity is a universal category. And the reason for that is I believe that all of us are made by God for God. So every human being, and I talked about this quite a bit in that first episode, every human being is in my view as a Christian, made in the image of God that is endowed with inestimable, at inestimable worth. That is a horrible to say, say it five times. And also so much so that nothing less than the Lord of all creation lay down his life for us, his creatures, his creation.
Human beings are made in the image of God. And that means that human beings share in this inestimable worth and we share in God's image and humanity, that is, we all trace our ultimate value and our ultimate identity to the one who made us. So primally speaking, who we are, are people made by the Lord. That's who we truly are in our essence. That's the essential expression of us as people, I would say. And so therefore, the cultural or the conversational, I should say, impasse need not hold sway. I don't have to be shut down by any one of the many permutations of identity politics, for instance, that says, "Well, unless you've entered explicitly into my experiences, you can't speak with any authority to them." I would say very gently, "Well, I can't speak with full authority, sure, because you've had experiences that I can only imagine." But the same is true of me, by the way, I've had experiences that you can only imagine.
All of us have experiences that are unique to us and we can speak to them and about them with a degree of authority that exceeds that of those around us who haven't shared in those experiences, but that does not mean that empathy is impossible. That does not mean it's impossible to enter into another person's shoes, that's a false dilemma. That either I experience directly what somebody else has, or I can't speak into those experiences at all because I have no authority to speak into them because I didn't experience them directly. I would say that's a false dilemma. Because on the basis of our shared humanity, we can speak to each other in our various walks of life wherever we find ourselves. Because the basis of common humanity allows us to enter into other people's shoes no matter how foreign, and sometimes that requires a great deal of creativity, sometimes that requires massive amounts of...Ideally speaking, it requires humility and a lot of creativity and a lot of effort on our part, but it's possible and it does happen.
We can reach those who have been in places, we can't even imagine initially. And we do the work to enter into another person's shoes. In many ways, I'm a person who loves literature, that was part of my educational background both in undergraduate and graduate studies and part of what I love about literature is that it is an invitation to vastly expand your perspective, to enlarge your perspective by entering into other people's shoes no matter how seemingly foreign. This is what the great stories do, they invite you into distant lands, distant places, distant skin, distant experiences. And it can function to open your eyes and enlarge your perspective. It really can.
And so we can do this on the basis of a common humanity. But so often the background assumption is really a nominalist assumption where we believe that all of us are isolated in our individual lives and experiences and that because of that, we are completely fractured and siloed and we can't reach other people unless those people are sharing directly in our experiences. So what that does is that means that for the most part, only going to really reach out or I suppose, socialize or have anything to do with people who are directly part of our experiences, whether those are friends or family members, those in our immediate communities and environments.
And of course, look at the polarized state of our nation right now and what's the problem? The problem is that by and large, so many of us are only willing to talk to people who share all of our assumptions, our background and really we look for the solidarity of common interests, but we have a very hard time. We have a very hard time reaching across dividing lines and talking to people of differing perspectives, people of differing backgrounds. But most of us, I think could admit that that is part of what is so needed right now. The only one of the vital ways in which we can repair some of these massive cultural rifts in the United States involves reaching across those dividing lines, and being friends with people who are different and who disagree with you.
Seriously, when Vital Signs first began years ago now, I spent a great deal of time talking about how we need to embrace those with deep differences, and we need to have friendships with people with whom we have deep disagreements. And by the way, with the understanding that many of those disagreements won't necessarily go away, by the way, we don't want a culture. Let's just...Here's a broad political point, by the way, we don't want a culture of total unity, right? Total unification, you hear the word “unification” and the word that immediately should spring to mind after I that is probably fascism. When you have complete and total control of everything and where everybody has to agree on everything, and there's a great deal of compulsion involved, we don't want total unification.
In fact, democracy doesn't look like that. You want to hold differences intention. So not necessarily iron out all those differences, but learn how to embrace those who differ with us, with the understanding that some of those differences will remain. That's vital. But on the basis of shared humanity, we actually can have these conversations and shared humanity is going to come up again . And I've talked about the image of God, now I'm going to bring up the shadow side of that which is best traced in the doctrine of original sin and I'm going to pull from an argument of Alan Jacobs that original sin actually is a very...it's a powerful way to unite us as well, which sounds a little odd at first, but I'll spell that out in the episode where we talk about Adam and Eve set to be episode three. But for the time being, what's important to remember is that no matter how foreign somebody’s experience, we actually can relate and we can speak in to those experiences on the basis of our shared humanity.
But what we're talking about when we talk about communal sin is also involves, and we'll spell this out much more clearly as we get to the biblical side of the story, and really it's scripture that makes sense of communal sin. It doesn't erase all of the complexity by the way, it doesn't take away...it doesn't solve this without remainder, there are aspects of this that remain beyond our grasp. And I'm not going to pretend like we can neatly solve and really just work through all of this instantly. There is no easy fix philosophical formula or solution that takes this all away, but I think scripture provides a really powerful perspective.
But what we find so often when we look at communal sin in our context now, whether it's systemic racism or in the realm of politics or entertainment at work or at work, these are some of the other areas I'm going to talk about, we often see that there are these vast systems now at work. And I mentioned this in the first episode as well the way often one of the most powerful definitions of culture is, "Well, this just the way things are."
And I talked about aggressive people who are very prejudicial or motivated by hatred and are directly trying to suppress a particular group and are very aggressive in their strategies and their tactics. But then that there are others, and this is most of us I would say, who are more passive, where we simply go with the flow. Now, if you pay attention to history of course, there are few habits that are more dangerous and more insidious than just going with the flow and not thinking through the implications of what's happening, whether that's just following company policies, even though you know in the back of your mind that some of them may be unethical or possibly even deeply unjust. But often when we just zoom into the day to day life of one of these particular systems, and I'll talk more about that in a second, it's just people trying to get by, I mentioned this in the last podcast, but Ronald Reagan once described the Soviet Union as the evil empire.
And I mentioned that I find this language a little bit misleading because we tend to think of an evil empire in mythic terms and we think of it filled with just villains and wicked people, ogres and trolls, hurting people and maybe roasting them on fires. But really if you went into the Soviet Union in, let's say the 1960s or whatever time period, what would you find? You would find people trying to just eke out a life in the system. Or if you went into the same it would be true, if you went into any unjust system, if you went into North Korea, if you went into Nazi occupied Germany, what would you find? You would find people trying to just make a living and take care of their families and to resist to not go with the status quo meant huge risk, not only for yourself, but for others around you. But most of us, we don't live in "Evil empires."
The audience I'm speaking to here by and large in North America and around the world, even most people, I think listening to Vital Signs, find themselves in relative stability, politically speaking and economically speaking. Nevertheless, as I mentioned on that first episode when I started talking about some of the real estate policy and some of the housing trends that are deeply unjust and motivated, if you look at...if you go all the way to the end of the line are motivated by racial prejudice and discrimination. Well, but again, in the midst of those kinds of circumstances, you will find many people in these offices who are not people in the middle of an evil empire, who are wicked, pernicious individuals who want to hurt others and are actively and aggressively trying to target an entire people group. You'll find people just trying to get on with their day, trying to make a living, trying to get by. And see, this is the deeply insidious factor.
You think also of Hannah Arendt's very arresting phrase from Irishman in Jerusalem, “the banality of evil.” Remember when she saw Eichmann at the trials, when he was on trial in Jerusalem, this man who was responsible for countless deaths, the loss of countless lives, she fully expected to meet an absolute monster, a Hannibal Lecter, somebody like this and instead she meets this mild mannered bureaucrat. That's who she sees, who insists that he was just doing his job. And it's this undramatic element where we expect this huge firework show, we expect this, "There's got to be...there's a Dracula." We need somebody who's an absolute, who fits the profile of a total monster. And we just find somebody doing their job.
Now, I'm not saying that people, by the way, who work in these various offices around the globe and in our nation where unjust policies are going on, I'm not saying that they're all Eichmann in Jerusalem, but what I am saying, is that this low level ambient systemic evil often plays out in these terms where what you see are not monsters attacking innocent victims, but people drinking coffee at their desks. It's really powerful to think about it in these terms. And it also highlights the fact that, again, to go back to another basic point, to just try to find some individual culprit and get them on trial and take care of them alone. When it comes to all of these various forms of systemic evil doesn't do justice to the whole picture. Yes, we have to hold people accountable for their actions. Yes, those who have broken the law that needs to be dealt with properly, but it's also to show that there's something deeper and more widespread going on.
I want to read to you some quotes which are quite rich from Miroslav Volf. Both of these come from his book Exclusion & Embrace, specifically the word “system,” when we talk about these systems that are in place. I want to explore that a little bit more closely. So hear these words carefully. Here's the first quote, whereas the fires of hatred flare up and are not sustained over time, especially in contemporary society, a system, a political, economic or cultural system, insinuates itself between myself and the other. If the other is excluded, it is the system that is doing the excluding. A system, in which I participate because I must survive and against which I do not rebel because it cannot be changed. See, let's just...you say, "This is just the way things are. I can't change it. It may be discriminatory, it may be deeply unethical, but after all, I have to make a living. I've got to take care of my family." That's what Volf is getting at here.
He goes on, I turn my eyes away or I zoom in with a camera at some exotic exemplar of suffering, which amounts to turning the eyes away because it both satisfies my perverse desire to see suffering and appeases my conscience for having turned the heart away from the sufferer. I go about my own business. Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will through with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason, "The road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half dead, I can pass, I must pass by without much concern." The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of its fulfillment.
There's so much there, but notice the one really shrewd comment. It's apparent thetical comment, by the way, he says, “I turn my eyes away from the suffering right in front of me. From what's going on.” Maybe the unjust or discriminatory policy that my company has had in place for a long time. You know it in the back of your mind, but I turn my eyes away from that and I look at some exotic exemplar of some suffering, right? So maybe I click on an article about political injustice taking place right now in South Sudan. Not that that's not important and a vital significance, of course it is, but we all know the distant suffering is always easier and more manageable because it has two major benefits. Firstly, there's largely nothing we can do about it, there are maybe some small measures we can take, we can send some money here or there, we can find ways to get involved, but directly speaking, there's not too much we can do about it.
And number two, it makes us feel better about ourselves because we care. It appeases our conscience, which is what Volf is saying here, even as we're taking our eyes off of the immediate need in front of us in Hard Times by Charles Dickens, which looks at some of the really horrific byproducts of the Industrial Revolution in London. So many...There was numerous children who were starving to death in England at the time. And Dickens satirizes this savagely in one scene where there are these children who go begging at this one charity only to be answered by the woman who answers the charity, "Get away from here. This money is for the children in Africa."
Now again, not that those who are suffering from poverty and from hunger on distant shores don't matter and in distant lands don't matter, of course they do. But the irony here is of course, she's so concerned about these distant problems that she's not focusing on the suffering that's right in front of her, in her own neighborhood. And there's a section in C.S Lewis's Screwtape Letters that I... and I think Lewis is taking a leaf from Dickens here, where he has uncle Screwtape say to his junior demon whom he's mentoring on how to tempt the patient, he has him say, "Look, always have your patient focused on problems that are far away. Anything to keep his eyes off the immediate needs in his community or in his neighborhood." Now, isn't that so true?
And so often this is what happens when we get sucked into the system of just the way things are, that deeply insidious line of thinking that screens out for us, so much of the injustice surrounding us. So let me give you another quote now from Volf. And this one takes us even more into the heart of the matter. He says, how does the system work? Whether it's economic or...he went through those different...When he was talking about the system he goes through those different straighter, whatever that system is, he says this, how does the system work? Consider what might be called the background cacophony of evil. It permeates institutions, communities, nations, whole Epox, and it is sustained, as one scholar puts it, by a multiply nuanced and mirrored and repeated intentionality of purpose that exercises its corporate influence.
In other words, it just becomes a tradition. It becomes a culture, a way of life. This is the low intensity evil of the way things work or the way things simply are. The exclusionary vapors of institutional or communal cultures under which many suffer but for which no one is responsible and about which all can plane but no one can target. So that's the way it plays out. This is just the way things are. This is just how we've always done things around here. Many heinous practices down the ages have been sustained by a line like that. This is just the way things are done around here from chattel slavery all the way to discriminatory real estate laws, which we've touched on in the first episode. What we're spelling out here are or what I would call webs of implication. We are all implicated in these webs of communal sin. Every single one of us. Now we'll talk more about our own guilt in the matter.
When we talk about Adam and Eve and start talking about communal sin in biblical terms, but we are all implicated in these complex webs of communal sin. I remember a number of years ago reading an article about iPhones and smartphones in general, but this one was specifically about iPhones and it was talking about...Essentially the question motivating the article was, "Should I feel guilty about my iPhone?" And the answer from the article was, probably because if you look at the conditions of the factories in China that produce these phones, they are in many ways appalling and this was looking at the suicide rates in the particular office, manufacturing plant that was doing this, it was looking at suicide rates there, it was looking at the conditions of the workers, it was looking at the hours that were required of them, it was looking at all of these different factors that most of us don't think about at all when we're asking Siri a question or we're simply scrolling through our phones.
But think about webs of implication when there's been a whole plethora of literature lately on the webs of implication that we find in all of the products that we endorse. Frequently unthinkingly, but just think about the web of implication in the clothing that you're wearing, whether it's the conditions of the workers who manufactured the clothing or whether it's the many of the textile mills, by the way, if you're concerned with environmental policies, think about many of these textile mills are dumping massive amounts of industrial waste into rivers. And this happens in many distant countries, in Asia, in... the Chitlin river, by the way for instance, is one of the most polluted in all of the world and a lot of times, voting with just our wallets and just our basic behavior, we price convenience over more ethical practices.
But again, this is just to show you how deep these webs of implication actually are or how wide they are. And how we find ourselves inescapably entangled. And so it's to wake up to the fact. And now, I know many people listening here are going to say, "Well, what are…? You're proposing this is a council of despair right now. What you're showing us is something that is just so it's a dilemma we can't possibly solve." Yeah, foreshadowed, no, we can't. I've said this over and over again on the Vital Signs podcast, I'm a Christian and a big part of that is motivated by the bad news as well as the good news. And the bad news is we are evil and we can't save ourselves, we need a savior. We absolutely do need to be saved.
When you actually look at the webs of implication, you can see just how deep the problem really is. And you can see that we don't have the resources to save ourselves. So in some ways I am trying to paint a bleak picture to show us that a realistic assessment of life on the ground should show us that we can't save ourselves. But also I'm trying to show you that communal sin is really not that exotic or foreign notion at all. And as we wake up more and more to a growing awareness of systemic injustice, we begin to see, "Oh, my goodness, that ancient bronze age category of communal sin might actually..." There might actually be something to that in the first place. Even if we're not believers, we can maybe say, "Well, this actually does seem to shed some very important light on the way things actually are here on the ground."
And I think what we're doing in many ways here in the United States particularly, I think there's a bit of a cultural awakening happening. And it's not just involved with a growing recognition of our own past sins as a nation. Very interestingly, slavery as often is has been called by many scholars and social critics and historians, America's original sin. But I think there's a growing reckoning that's happening across the nation right now and that's good and needed, but also I think we're awakening from what I would call the stupor of individualism. Individualism has its benefits of course as well, individualism, I'll go along with Timothy Keller here and some other sociologists who he's drawn with in saying that individualism has given us in many ways the benefit of looking at people as endowed with great value and dignity and so because of individualism, we've seen some real progress and some real social reforms, so that's good.
But I think the dark side of individualism has been selfishness and a blindness to the fact that everything we do, all of the mistakes we make affects everybody else, that affects others around us because we're inescapable relational beings. And once again, to go back to that universal category, as human beings be on the basis of that deep essential bond, when we hurt others or hurt ourselves even, it affects...it sends out ripples, shock waves that affect everybody around us. Just think about that.
If you're a person of major influence for instance, and you enact a discriminatory real estate policy, how many untold numbers of people are going to be affected by that? Deeply affected by that. How many people? It can have catastrophic consequences for so many people in our lives. If you're a person who's just quietly nurturing an addiction, let's say it's a pornography addiction, how naive it would be to assume that that affects only you and that doesn't...? That what that does to your conception of relationships and your expectations of others, that that doesn't affect those around you, especially those who are closest to you and then that the hurt that they carry then affects others. Webs of implication, once again, how were we exposed to pornography in the first place? See webs of implication, something that's just...that's now snowballed and now has become so pervasive and so powerful and so strong, it's now got legs of its own. It seems to take on a life of its own. We see this. That's again what Volf was getting at with these systems.
As we talk about this growing sense of communal sin, you can think about it now in other aspects. Think about it in politics now. The growing sense of animosity in the nation keeps getting referenced, we keep hearing that. And part of the problem here has to be also that we see so many of our leaders leading by example and with their very vicious behavior, right? Whether it's the commander in chief, whether it's as of the airing of this podcast, this will behold news, but the democratic debates took place and one of the major takeaways from that was just the immense animosity on display between all of the candidates, two of whom refused to shake hands at the end of the debate. So we see that. When you see these deep systems that have taken place, but also these modes of behavior. And again, that just seems to be the way things are. That's just the way it goes now.
It used to be that we had the ability to compromise, that we had the ability to talk through some of these deep disagreements, even when they were deep disagreements. There was still a sense of mutual respect, but obviously there's been a gradual shift away from that and now we're much more tribalistic and we're really mostly interested in the realm of politics of just consolidating our own power or really just towing the party line and really value loyalty over conviction and over conscience often. And this cuts across the political spectrum, by the way, I'm an equal opportunity offender here. But my point here is that this just seems to be the way things are once again, but there are webs of implication.
When you look at the people who are participating in this growing animosity, you'll see that they're, yes, they're responsible and they're participating in it, but they're also part of an ongoing tradition and culture. That's what I want you to see. Let's move away from politics. It's easy to trace to see webs of implication and politics, it's easy to see because these people exercise a lot of outsized influence, influence that many of us don't have, of course, so influence on a national scale. When we have the commander in chief misbehaving for instance or maybe giving voice to some kind of a screed or a very insulting language, whether it's on or otherwise. Obviously, this carries a lot of influence and a lot of people will feel that impact. But now let's go another rundown, let's talk about the entertainment industry right now for a second. And again, I'm thinking about these institutions and there are other institutions we could consider as well, but I'm thinking about this in terms of communal sin.
The major story speaking specifically of Hollywood right now is of course Harvey Weinstein, right? And as the allegations have mounted and now as actual verdicts are being handed in, one of the features here that we're having to reckon with are the webs of implication. So many people knew about it. Years ago, not too many years ago, before Harvey Weinstein was on trial, Ricky Gervais, who is quite a colorful jokester in many ways and he's...Let's face it, he's called in to host the Golden Globes because of his sensational delivery and because he's going to offend people. That's why they keep bringing him back. But he made a joke about what Harvey Weinstein had been doing for years. And he said, "You all know it. This is before he was even on trial." So many people knew. Now, again, what we want to do is my tendency is the same tendencies of everybody else, we want to go into our evil empire mindsets and say, "Oh, gosh, it's just...Hollywood is Babylon."
And in many ways, like you can't say Hollywood is Babylon, in some ways it's a place where you just have incredible power that's often unchecked, right? And that's what's come out. That's come out in pretty colorful ways recently. But on the other hand, let's not be over-simplistic. Let's think along the lines we were before those, let's say you're some assistant to Harvey Weinstein, you're some low level assistant or you're another producer, you're working somewhere in this Hollywood system. Yes, in the back of your mind, you have heard those rumors. In fact, you might even say there's a sick kind of tradition around this. There are jokes made in break rooms and under your breath, and you would never directly say this because you know and you would never directly confront this, because you know that if you did what would happen, you would lose your job, worse, your reputation may even be at stake, you may be blacklisted, you may be smeared, "This man has very powerful legal representation."
Now, this is to illustrate once again that when there is this system in place, the tendency to go with the flow and to simply say, "There's no other way. I mean, I have to make a living." Is so strong. This is why these webs of implication really are very serious and as Christians, I'm talking to the Christians now for a second, this is why one of the most powerful tents and complex scriptural mandates for us is to be in the world but not of the world. OS Guinness in his book, Impossible People, talks about this. He talks about, Christians ought to be known as the impossible people, people who are unbribable, uncorruptable. Those you simply can't buy their trust and their loyalty because their ultimate trust and their loyalty is to none other than their Lord and savior. And if that alienates them, if that puts them in danger and puts them in at risk, and it has always from the very inception of the early church, then so be it.
But the webs of implication, we feel it in our workplace too though as well. I've made so many references to our jobs and our workplace. In some ways I think to avoid sounding like I'm simply giving a council of despair, I think one of the most holistic practices here, if you happen to be speaking to the Christians now listening or to those who are feeling deeply stirred, if you find yourself in a work environment that you either believe to be or know to be unjust in some way, then pray. There's no exotic technique, there's no special spiritual or leadership principle here, pray to the Lord for wisdom on how you conduct yourself. Whether that is you making an exit, whether that is you making...issuing a direct challenge and taking the risk with that or whether that is you remaining and trying to be with the Lord's empowerment, a faithful presence where you are so that you can help to send out ripples of redemption rather than ripples of corruption.
This for instance, by the way, is why I believe we need Christians in all of the various sectors of society. Not to mount some kind of takeover, but simply to wield a redemptive influence. Not to try to wipe out and eradicate opposing views, I don't believe that the answer is a theocracy, but to give...to really to exercise a redemptive influence that can shape in healing ways the direction of a culture.
When you think about your work environment, I don't think it requires too much work to spell out those webs of implication, whether it's hidden behind the impersonal language of a policy, or whether it's just some bad practice that we all have to…we just kind of, "Well, this is just the way it goes, we need to keep quiet about it because if you want to keep your job, you'll keep quiet. This is just the way it is. I don't like it but it's just a tradition, it's a culture. So this is just how it goes." To step back from that and to recognize that it is possible to challenge, it is possible to break away. And it often will come with a cost, but we need to recognize that.
But communal sin is not something foreign. It is not something ancient and archaic. It is not something forgotten that we've left behind us or that we have out grown, it is very much a part of our culture. And I think in the United States and in North America, there's a growing recognition of that. And I think it's becoming so concentrated, this recognition that it is now virtually undeniable unless we are at active pains to ignore the communal nature of our sin. And it's so important to see it for what it is. We cannot deal with it, we cannot have forgiveness, we certainly can't have reconciliation unless we deal specifically with the communal sin in which we find ourselves, but we don't want to also succumb to the simplistic thinking that would just say life's a battle between good people and evil people borrowing this from Jonathan Haidt's in his book, The Coddling of the American Mind, but recognize that we are all implicated.
And I'm foreshadowing a little bit to the next episode where I'm going to talk about the solidarity that is offered by the doctrine of original sin. Sounds so odd. Sounds really weird, but I really think that this is actually the case, when we recognize that each and every one of us is fallen and as a Christian I would say, when we recognize that all have sinned and fall short of the glory and that we are all desperately dependent on God's grace, until we recognize that, we often will succumb to lines of thinking that will lead to tribalism, spiritual elitism or various forms of us and them.
And when we look at the nature of communal sin, we can see how naive and frail the us and them mindset actually is. Webs of implication. We are all entangled. Well, this has been the most encouraging of Vital Signs podcasts, but keep in mind, this is only part two in a six part series. And so I thank you very much for hanging with me here. This has been a longer episode than is usual, so I will try to keep it more concise as we move forward. But you've been listening to Vital Signs podcast exploring signs of life in today's culture. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister, and I'm a speaker and a writer here at our RZIM.
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