Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Constructive Criticism

I'm all for combating racism and such. While it might not be against African Americans or Mexicans or Muslims, I remain convinced that everyone has a prejudice of some kind. That's just human nature to be averse to things or people that are different from us.

This tendency did actually serve a constructive purpose back in primordial times when humans were barely even hunter/gatherers. What you didn't understand could kill you. This was nature's way of helping people survive. If you are ever out in the wilderness, and something doesn't look or feel quite right, chances are it is probably not. You discriminate between things you understand and things you don't. 

Contrary to popular belief, the word "discriminate" is not inherently bad in and of itself. To discriminate is to simply make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing. Simply put, to discriminate is simply to differentiate. You discriminate all the time in everything from colors like red from green to the difference between a tree and a bush.  

When discrimination becomes bad or morally wrong is when one discriminates on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit. If you discriminate against African American simply because of the color of their skin or against a Latino simply because he might be an illegal Mexican, then that is when discrimination becomes morally wrong. For good or bad, the word "discrimination" in our culture is used almost exclusively in this negative sense. 

The Episcopal News Service published this little blurb a few days back. As with anything having to do with news about the Episcopal Church, whether it be from ENS, the mainstream press, or the blog world, you have to take such events with a grain of salt. Solid facts and back stories are seldomly reported in detail, if at all. For such a relatively small American denomination, the sheer level of spin from all sides on virtually anything Episcopal is truly mind numbing. Likewise, the sheer level of blogs that engage in such spin is truly staggering. Many of them do nothing but bad mouth the Episcopal church and the Presiding Bishop, while others are little more than online propaganda pieces that believe that Caesar can do no wrong.  I try very hard to avoid getting sucked into such bloggery, as I don't think they are really all that constructive or edifying either for the denomination or the Body of Christ in general. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part there are very few Anglican blogs that I read on a regular basis. 

My major issue with things like this service (see above link) or, more generally, “official” apologies from Congress or the President or whomever is to ask the question, “What is the purpose of doing this?” I mean, are we honestly trying to repent or is this just political grandstanding for the purpose of scoring political points, self aggrandizement, or both? 

And again, not knowing the whole back story of this or similar liturgies and the rationale behind them, I can only guess at motives. Being born in the Post-Watergate world, I probably share a certain amount of cynicism about anything that smacks of the political. I don't think I am nearly as cynical as many of my generation that worship the ground on which people like comedian/lampoonist Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert walk. There was a time in my life I did occasionally appreciate their form of satirical news, but I grew up. The older I get, the more convinced I become that such people are poisoning the body politick because I see a whole generation of people that can do nothing creative other than lampoon others. Satire for its own sake offers no solutions but simply entrenches a form of political helplessness bordering on nihilism.

Repentance means more than simply being sorry for something. From the Christian perspective, the word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), which is a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by 'after' and 'different.' This means that repentance means: 'to think differently after'. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; and is a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness."

I don't see a lot of this metanoia in liturgies and political apologies of this sort because they presuppose that the people have already repented before the liturgy even begins. If the people have already repented, what need is there of a service of repentance other than for purposes aside from repentance? To me, that suggests political ends.

My general rule of thumb on gauging political motives and repentance is to apply the lens of Luke 18: 9-14 (paraphrased for my convenience):
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—slave owners, robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this racist tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
  13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
  14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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