"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

what is Caesar's?

I heard on the radio yesterday that the Defense Department is investigating the actions some US military members in the ever-expanding Cartagena prostitution scandal which originated with the actions of some Secret Service agents in advance of a visit to Colombia by President Obama.  Also in the news recently were photos of US soldiers being, to put in charitably, disrespectful of dead Afghan fighters which they had recently killed.  Many voices are expressing a concern about the degradation of American morals or virtue or some such thing exhibited in these episodes.  I share their concern and dismay.  However, I do not think these incidents are indicative of any kind of social decline.  Rather, I am of the opinion that people are remarkably consistent across time and humans today are, by and large, no more virtuous or callous from age to age than they might be at any given point in time.  In the Christian concept, this is what might be construed as the sinfulness of humanity.  In a non-Christian context, perhaps it would be called something like biological determinism.

Now I wouldn't go so far as Calvin's notion of the Total Depravity of humanity.  I do believe that all of the created universe, including people, contains something inherently good that is reflective of the God who lies behind our existence.  That said though, there does certainly seem to be something deep within our beings which causes us to create and re-create over and over again unjust relationships and systems.  I think that an important part of being a faithful person is the need to continually examine our relationship and participation in the human-created systems that define our world.  I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus was on about in his answer to the question about paying taxes; "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  The bigger question for us is; what isn't God's?

So, people continually do bad things because that seems to be at least a part of who we are as humans.  Christ's call to love our neighbors as ourselves is an invitation to turn our narcissism and selfishness on its head; an invitation to put ourselves last.  We need to be mindful of the ways we participate in Caesar's world, the ways in which we put our comforts ahead of justice.  I'm not suggesting we all run off to live in communes - we aren't turning the clock back to be hunter-gatherers.  But it might be helpful to recall that in Genesis, all of the arts of civilization are the fruit of the children of Cain, who was cursed for murdering his brother.


1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you--humanity isn't getting worse, we're just more aware of it now.