Thursday, May 17, 2007

Not My Fault

We all cringe a bit when we see someone get caught for doing something wrong, and they begin to throw the blame on someone else.

“Not my Fault!”

Not to pick on her in particular, but Paris Hilton was just found guilty of probation violation. What did she say? “My Publicist didn’t inform me I was not able to drive.”

“Not my Fault!”

Anyone who has small children can watch this repartee occur in almost machine-gun like precision:

“She hit me!”
“He hit me first!”
“She called me a name!”
“He made a face at me!”
“She started it!”
“He started it!”

It seems as if our natural human tendency, upon being discovered in the wrong, is to defensively determine some other person or circumstance to blame, in order to alleviate (even if just a bit) the responsibility of the action. To spread the blame. To share the fault.

I was recently struck by how Christianity is able to do this with the Sin Nature. To spread the blame, just a bit, with the fact that this is simply who they are. They can’t help it. If you get nothing else out of this blog entry, please get this:

It is not a sin nature. It is you.

If you think about it, Christianity put together a pretty smart package. For 1000 years, Judaism placed the blame squarely on the humans. The Israelites failed to follow God. God punished them. The Israelites followed God’s laws—God rewarded them. One was held (sometimes immediately) accountable for one’s own actions.

It would seem it was decided that this wasn’t working. Humans were not getting better. Humans were not getting worse. The same problems that existed 1000 years earlier, continued to exist. Tradition was perpetuation of the sameness, with no apparent end in sight. And therefore the concept of “Grace” enters Stage Right. An idea that God will pardon you upon the far simpler action of belief, rather than this constant retribution/reconciliation cycle.

In one fell swoop, one can be sanctified, justified, rectified, glorified, purified and –fied in every good way possible. Almost seems too good to be true. And it was. Because these sanctified, justified, etc. people continued to sin. Exactly as before. As Paul says in Romans 7:14-15, 17-21
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Paul rightly sees that even after the belief, after the justification, after the salvation, the person continues to struggle with moral decisions. There is no “quick fix.” No “magic bullet.”

Notice that last verse carefully, though. “It is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me”

“Not my fault.”

Oh what a convenient excuse to rest the blame. The person genuinely doesn’t want to sin. Of course they end up sinning anyway. They are genuinely repentant and will to never again. Of course they blow it. What is to blame—the person? Nope—it is that insidious sin nature within.

It is not a sin nature. It is you.

The Christian can claim it is the fault of Eve. Wicked, wicked Eve. Once she bit that fruit, all humanity, including the person, was doomed to inherit a sin nature. But for Eve…it would not be there. It is not their fault. Or they can blame biology. That they were “born into sin.” It is the fault of the human condition of existing in which each person is given, through their parent’s DNA this pernicious sin nature that no amount of praying, pleading and prying will ever remove.

If they are born with it, and cannot rid it (even with God’s intervention)—how are they totally to blame? We may as well “blame” them for breathing, or having a heartbeat!

This attitude was brought forcefully to home when I read a Christian blog raising that stale, oft-repeated observation that women must dress modestly in order to quiet the sex-crazed beast found in every heterosexual male on the planet. And as I was shifting through the familiar, “We are Men and can’t help it. It is who we are. We see a belly button and go ape” (you probably know the routine better than I) all I was hearing was “It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.

I see Christians that blame the female for what she is wearing, but not the male. “Oh, he can’t help it, the ol’ horn dog! That’s just who he is.” wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. “You shouldn’t dress like that, because the boys will think you want sex.” Nothing about the boys being the problem—they have that sin nature. Can’t help it. Not their fault.

In fact, it is almost treated as a game. That the boys will think that way regardless of what a female wears (by the by, doesn’t this say more about where the focus should be made?) so cover up as much as possible to make the “game” as hard as possible, but they will be thinking those nasty thoughts regardless. ‘Cause that’s just who they are.

“Not my fault.”

I’ll let you in on the worst kept human secret of all time. If I see a woman in a bikini, my mind will wander for a moment. However, likewise, if I see a money-stuffed wallet on the ground with no one around, my mind will wander for a moment then, too. If I hear a particular juicy piece of gossip, my wind will wander.

Each of us is constantly barraged with opportunities to make moral decisions. Do I let that car in? Do I give money to that homeless person? Do I respond to this phone call in anger? Do I take the money and run? Do I share the gossip? And yes—do I initiate contact with the woman in the bikini in hopes of being unfaithful to my wife?

There is nothing spectacular about having a moment. An instant where, as creatures that have the ability to weigh moral consequences, we think, “What if I take this farther in that direction?” It is not having a moment that makes anyone special—it is what we DO with that moment.

A problem with Christianity is that it has become so sex-conscious that while it recognizes and attempts to deal with “moments” in a variety of other fields, when it comes to sex, it fears having that moment at all! Because while that moment may be justified with greed, or slander or hate, it is never, EVER to be allowed with sex. Even the thought is wrong.

Yet men recognize that is biologically impossible. That thought comes regardless. Rather than recognize it for a moment and deal with it—Christians must determine a way by which to never have that moment.

And the easiest thing to do is cover up the female. Make it their fault. The poor male is stuck with his sin nature—not his fault. The poor male must avoid this moment—not his fault. So impose restrictions on the female and if they fail their part, then the man is one-more step removed from fault.

“Not my fault. Is the sin nature. It is her fault.”

It is high time that Christianity realizes that it IS their fault. That, as a human, they need to start taking full and total responsibility for their actions. They need not feel shame, nor honor in it. All of us have regretted a moment where we wished we hadn’t done something we did, or didn’t do something we wish we had. Stop laying excuses on some “sin nature” and start owning up to being human!

It is also high time that Christian males realize those thoughts ARE going to come, it is not a matter of fault as much as a matter of biology, and to start dealing with them appropriately, rather than attempt to quash them by placing the blame on the female. While I don’t hold the Garden of Eden story to be historical in any fashion, it sure was spot on with Adam’s response as to his own decision—blame the woman!

It is not some biological inheritance of a sin nature, like your dad giving you a propensity for heart disease or your mother giving you a propensity for breast cancer, in which you are doing the best you can with the heredity you have—this is you! You make the decisions. You take the credit. You take the blame.

Please stop telling me you couldn’t help it because of something you have no control over. You do. You chose not to. That’s O.K.—it comes with the package of being human. But start taking responsibility for yourself, rather than surrender to the inevitability of laying the blame on something you claim you have no control over.

At best that is biology. At worst—it is an excuse.


  1. "It is high time that Christianity realizes that it IS their fault. That, as a human, they need to start taking full and total responsibility for their actions." (Dagoods)

    I have actually been blogging about this problem for some time also. As a Christian, it also bothers me at the glibness of the way the idea of repentance is taught - and the fact full responsibility is not taught (and not at the strength I would like to see). I think blaming the 'sin nature' is a cop-out for the believer to do - and a disgrace to the humanity within them.

    I think a lot of Christianity focuses on God and less on humanity in their theologies - but they fail to realize the their own rabbi (Jesus) was a human also, even if he was 'son of God' he was within a human experience. I take a lot of my theology from that angle - the human experience - I think this is where the church needs to further explore.

  2. I agree with Societyvs. Too often, God's forgiveness almost seems to encourage wrong behavior, because the person can always repent. It's almost as though they don't have to try as hard to do the right thing -- one, because they know they're going to fail regardless (which is something that bothers me about 'we can never live up to Jesus,' because that's like a self-fufilling prophecy), and two, as long as they feel bad or hold the right beliefs, they'll be okay. I think there was a study done where pepole of this mindset didn't feel it was as necessary to seek out the forgivness of the other person they had wronged, because as long as they had divine forgiveness, they were okay. Basically, the sense of guilt was absolved.

    Whereas people not of this mindset didn't have that out, and so had to think deeper of the consequences of the behavior.

    So I tend to approach Christianity the way Society does.

  3. Out of curiosity, Societyvs and Heather,

    Respectively, how does your particular God fit in the equation, then? Does it help people make moral decisions? Does it completely abstain and let them duke it out on their own? Is it responsible for the creation of immorality, and how does it respond to that responsibility?

    Did Jesus have the exact same nature as we do? (whether you believe we have a sin nature or not?) And did being God help him out in any way?

  4. DagoodS,

    Sigh. You couldn't have asked something simple? ;)

  5. And I didn't mean to hit enter there.

    ** Is it responsible for the creation of immorality, and how does it respond to that responsibility?** I honestly have no answer to this one. I do get stuck on the fact that if God sees all, creates all, and has all power, then logically it would lead to God being responsible for the creation of immorality. If this conversation were happening in any other context, then we would assign the responsibility to the all powerful/knowing/creating Being.

    **how does your particular God fit in the equation, then? Does it help people make moral decisions? Does it completely abstain and let them duke it out on their own?** What has always bothered me is the idea that one cannot make a good decision, or be good, without God's help -- if we are saying this with the idea that God is 'Other' or somewhere in Heaven. I do believe humans are capable of genuine, non-sin-tainted works. But I would also believe that God helps with those works, because I hold a panentheistic view. We can never be 'apart' from what God is. As for abstaining ... when I read events like the Holocaust, there is a part of me that wonders. Because that's exactly how it comes across. And then I have moments, or hear of moments, when people describe the access to the divine, or moments of beauty. Or even those moments of goodness in the middle of tremendous pain. I'm ultimately left with the fact that I have no easy answer to this, or even a simple answer. I simply believe that there is someone Divine.

    Jesus having the same nature as us -- that would depend on who one asks. I know Augustine held that we all had original sin due to the sperm donor. As Jesus was a result of the virgin birth, he was spared that. If born the regular way, then yes. I don't believe Jesus was God. I wouldn't say he was exactly like us, though. He was more of the example of what humanity was supposed to be, and was constantly 'in' God, unlike anyone else before or after. He was a window into who God is. The thing with Jesus being so far above humanity is that it would be difficult for me to see Jesus as someone to relate to, or someone who could really understand people.

  6. 'Notice that last verse carefully, though. “It is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me”

    “Not my fault.”' (DagoodS)

    You have made a very valid criticism of modern society's refusal to accept blame. People who call themselves "Christians" have demonstrated this particularly in their approach to sexual morality and the thought life. But please, please separate popular Christianity and the Christianity described in the Bible! They are more different than you might think.

    Paul in the verse you have quoted here is not, as modern Christianity pretends, presenting the sin nature as something separate or not part of "me". What he highlights is that for the Christian, "me" does not consist solely of a sinful nature; rather, it consists of two natures, each with different longings and understandings and strengths. Me is my natural self, good but plagued with the disease of sin and hence with a longing, despite its goodness, for sin, + a new, spiritual nature enabled by the Holy Spirit who takes up residence within me. The spirit-nature adds the ability to overcome my longing for sin and not only choose against it, but act against it. I must choose, then, which nature to please.

    But you've said it so well - this is no magic bullet. No matter which one I choose, the other will give me pain. Oh, the Christian life has been presented as a life of ease, with constant blessing by a God who is powerful enough to save parking spots and cure all my colds! The truth is, the Christian life begins a battle to the death for self. Nothing could be more painful. What makes such pain worthwhile is what lives when self dies:
    'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.' (Galatians 2:20)

    Without the second nature, the death of the natural self leaves only sin. With a new nature, the ultimate death of the natural self (with the death of the body) leaves a living spirit that may respond to God.

    That is why Jesus tells Nicodemus,
    "'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'
    'How can a man be born when he is old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely he canot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!'
    Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh; but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

    Grace does not lift the blame - rather, God himself takes responsibility for our sin. Then he gives us the ability, not only to choose, but to do. As Paul points out, this leads to a struggle between the natural self, who wants comfort, and the spiritual self, who wants God.

    As you point out, it doesn't matter what the women (or men) are wearing, or doing, or saying. That is our society's way of shuffling off responsibility, but the Bible doesn't support it.

  7. "Respectively, how does your particular God fit in the equation, then? Does it help people make moral decisions? Does it completely abstain and let them duke it out on their own?" (Dagoods)

    I truly wish I could 'speak for God' or on 'His behalf' - but this would be a misnomer for me and likely unfounded. All I can say is I follow the teachings of Jesus as best I can - continually developing these values within my life as I go (for the betterment of society around me). I see a strong value system in the teachings of Jesus and I give them respect - and this also to God - my worship is that respect (of adopting the values).

    I have recently been considering something about this faith - about God letting us stand on our own - I think there is some validity to that in a theology that teaches 'God is a parent'. Maybe the decisions for a better life are left in our hands - not to be stopped by God (ie: choice) - but to be stopped by us (as assuming a full responsibility stance). I see nothing in my faith that teaches the contrary. So yes, one can see virtue and vice evident within us - we have been left the freedom of that - and we have a great responsibility in this endeavor (ie: let's not hurt others).

    "Is it responsible for the creation of immorality, and how does it respond to that responsibility?" (Dagoods)

    I don't think God created immorality - at least this is the viewpoint I come from. I can only go by human experience and see that we have the freedom to 'hurt or help' anyone as we so choose to do (given the many situations we are in). I don't read about a God that is like that in Jesus' teachings - only that God created (and creation did as it chose) - but creation was 'good' (and to be honest - it truly is for me). To find God responsible for the idea's of immorality is the same as saying 'I am less responsible' (or can be viewed that way by some) - isn't it the same idea some Christians make about repentance (an excuse)?

    I guess my faith hinges on some very simple concepts then works it way from there: Love God - Love others - Love myself - and this is the lense I use (as they were the core of Jesus' teahcings). I find those 3 concepts all intercept one another all the time but they are based in idea of 'love' - and this then falls on us to be responsible with 'what we are given' (life).

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