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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Tyranny of Victimization

It has been cogently argued by Wilfred McClay in the May 2001 issue of “First Things” that the prestige accorded to victims in our society, and the rise of the phenomenon of victimization are closely linked

“to the extraordinary weight of guilt in our time, the pervasive need to find innocence through moral absolution, to discharge one’s moral burden, and to the fact that the conventional means of finding that absolution – or even of keeping the range of one’s responsibility for one’s sins within some kind of reasonable boundaries – are no longer generally available.”

He concludes that “it is not a coincidence that the rise of the cult of victimization in our culture corresponds fairly exactly with the decline of Christian orthodoxy.”

Those old enough to have lived through the tumultuous change inaugurated in the 1960s can easily testify to the rise of victimization during our lifetimes, for in our youth, victims were mostly those caught up in the machinations of the Nazi and Japanese war machines during World War II. But as we passed through the Viet Nam and Cold War eras into the post modern age it seems that victimization has grown exponentially. Now everyone is describes as a victim of one sort or another – whether it is of pollution, discrimination of all kinds, being impoverished, profiled, having eaten too many fat and salt laden burgers at McDonalds or just having a bad hair day. Some even consider the earth itself to be a victim oppressed by humans.

Many who are not victims themselves claim excessive identification with victims, castigating the Western world, the United States, even humans in general as oppressors of the world’s victims. Some who espouse various social concerns do so in order to identify with victims. A few have so identified with the cult of victimization so as to create spurious autobiographies of their own personal victimhood, accounts which have later been proved to be false.

The cult of victimization is tyrannical because it enslaves those who grasp on to it. To understand why, we must look at the root causes of victimization as well as its effects upon society at large, and individuals in particular.

With the loss of the Judeo-Christian worldview’s emphasis upon sin and absolution, the post modern world has a problem with which it is not prepared to deal.
Where there is moral responsibility, there is inevitably moral guilt. We are faced with all kinds of guilt and have no solution. Without a God who forgives us, absolves us and declares us righteous, we are left with a vague emptiness that longs to be filled. This is precisely where the cult of victimization finds its converts, by claiming to fill this void. By identifying ourselves as a victim, by identifying ourselves with victims, or even with their causes, we can salve our consciences. Since victims are not responsible for their victimhood, they are not morally responsible. Someone else is always the oppressor or aggressor. They are responsibly guilty, thus the victim is freed from responsibility for his actions and can claim innocence.

But the cult of victimization never satisfies. The void is always there, leading to more and more desperate attempts to absolve oneself from guilt. The worship of victimization becomes more pronounced until it consumes the person in perpetual slavery. Freedom only comes when we recognize that, while occasionally we are victims, more often it is our own moral choices that have affected our status. Only by coming to God, admitting our failures, seeking his forgiveness and receiving his absolution will we be truly free.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Modern Day Jesus

How would Jesus have fared if he had been born in today’s world? Psychologists would likely have diagnosed him as having multiple disorders and complexes. They would have placed him in on-going counseling sessions. They likely would have recommended that he be institutionalized as a danger to society and himself. The most severe diagnosis would have been Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He exhibited a constant defiance to authority figures, frequently condemning and defying the rulers and religious leaders of the country. He refused to cooperate with them, and at times was even hostile towards them. They would have concluded that he had an anti authority bias Occasionally he exhibited signs of having Intermittent Explosive Disorder because he sometimes flew off the handle, such as when he whipped legitimate businessmen in the temple courts. He had problems with anger, as was shown in the account of his healing of the man with the withered hand. The psychologists would have recommended that he attend anger management classes to learn how to control his temper. Along with these problems, he had identity problems, seen in his attitude towards his own nuclear family. He denied them, questioning whom his mother and brothers were. His connection with reality would have been severely questioned when he called people around him his mother and brothers. He had poor social skills, calling King Herod “that sly fox” and repeatedly calling the Pharisees and scribes “hypocrites, open sepulchers and vipers”. He was politically incorrect and intolerant towards others.

They would have said that Jesus suffered from a Delusion of Grandeur. He kept vacillating between thinking of himself as man and as God. Several times during his lifetime he referred to himself as God or God’s son. He often spoke of God as his father. In this, they would have found him delusional, unable to comprehend reality, as when he told the high priest that he was the Son of the Most High. At the same time he also had a messianic complex, believing that his mission was to save people from their sins. He equated himself with the popular messianic title “Son of Man”, saying that he had come to seek and save the lost.

Like many of those with psychological disorders today, he was homeless, claiming that he had no place to even lay his head. He wandered from town to town, taking advantage of those who were willing to support him. He associated with the riff raff of society, a variety of outcasts such as prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors and the like. His friends were the type of people that reputable society shunned. He led a band of fisherman, tax collectors and zealots who followed his every word. On top of all this, Jesus was a charismatic figure, always drawing a large crowd willing to listen to his rants against the authority figures and his self delusional identity with God. He was a polarizing figure. This would have reinforced their conclusion that he was dangerous, to others as well as himself and must be dealt with. Towards the end of his life he was known to have a death wish, desiring to die a most horrible death.

If Jesus had come today, how would we have responded? Would we have found him troubling? Would we have institutionalized him, locking him up as dangerous to himself and others, and then thrown away the key? Fortunately he came at the proper time in history, so they merely nailed him to a cross and executed him. How would we have treated him?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

God's Super Bowl

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, with millions of people watching the contest. Those outside the stadium endured four hours in the cold, watching large TV screens; those inside spent that time sitting on hard bleacher seats, craning unsuccessfully to see the participants on the field below them, their ears straining to catch the garbled words coming from the loudspeakers. Those at home or at parties spent the time in front of their TV sets, watching the game and attempting to discover which where the most creative ads. We make sure that our schedules don’t conflict with the game.

Monsignor Charles Pope in a blog entry traces an interesting disconnection between attendance at the super bowl and attendance at church, noting how dissimilar they are. Super Bowl attendees prepare well in advance for the game, often wear special clothing for the occasion, (or in some cold weather stadiums go bare-chested during sub freezing temperatures), arrive early, cheer loudly and get wrapped up in the game. Especially during collegiate game, they will joyfully and robustly sing their favorite team’s fight song. They love the game and enthusiastically participate in the festivities. If at all possible they will find a tailgate party to attend several hours before the game starts. If watching it at home, they will usually turn on the pre-game show to help them prepare for the fray. They know their favorite team and player’s statistics. There is no problem if the game goes into overtime, a fact seen in the Buffalo Wild Wings commercials. Overtime gives them more time to enjoy the game. They easily spend considerable sums of money on tickets or party supplies, and think nothing of it. Once the game starts they focus on every play, often talking about certain plays for the next several days, rehearsing them in their minds. One thing is certain: they are passionate about the game. They never find it boring.

It is fortunate that we have a similar view of church. We prepare for Sunday mornings by reading the Scriptures for the day and praying for the service. As Sunday arrives, we put on our Sunday best, make certain that we arrive well in advance of the service, expectant of being in church for several hours. We joyfully greet each other, and anticipate worshiping our Lord together. We earnestly desire that there be a pre-service event that we can attend. We are oblivious to the fact that the sanctuary may be too hot or cold or the pews uncomfortable. We are just as happy whether the sound system is working or not. We hope that the preacher is long winded so we can spend more time worshiping God with our fellow worshipers. We never find the service boring. We don’t think twice about placing an extra amount of money in the offering plate as it passes by. We fully participate in the service, singing joyfully, following every aspect of the service. As the service continues, spontaneous praise issues forth from our lips as we observe what God is doing in the world. Sunday afternoons are likely to find us in discussion of the sermon we heard earlier in the day. We eagerly look forward to the next Sunday’s service. We have the same excitement towards God as we do towards the game. If Sunday scheduling conflicts arise, we make sure that church has the top priority for we certainly don’t want to miss it.

How fortunate we are that our attitude towards the Super Bowl and church are so similar. Or are they?