Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Apathy is the Work of the Devil
Liberal Christians are generally pretty good at teaching Christian social ethics, including care for the poor, care for the environment, and so on.
Unfortunately, conservative Christians aren't typically very good at Christian social ethics, and liberal Christians aren't usually very good at individual inner reform. Both engage in a measure of apathy, either apathy in the face of social injustice, or apathy in the face of one's own sin.
There is an obvious middle ground here that Jesus taught and lived. Jesus understood that seeking inner reform must result in seeking social reform and seeking social reform must include inner reform.
I will demonstrate this by using John Lennon as an example. Lennon was in sync with Jesus in that they both taught peace as the ultimate goal we should all be working towards ("War is over if you want it," is basically the Christian message--I'll deal with that in a future blog). However, John Lennon was also a very angry person, and I'm not talking about righteous anger. He was often impatient, belittling, explosive, verbally abusive, and in at least one case, physically abusive. While he taught "do everything for peace," he often failed to actually embody peace. As Richard Rohr says, activists "might have the answer, but they are [often] not themselves the answer."(1)
Jesus shows us that you cannot be an activist for social change without being an activist for your inner change. I watched an interview of a millionaire businessman and democrat describing what he does with his money. Since he doesn't need or want millions of things, he doesn't stimulate the economy through consumption, because one person can only spend so much. So what does he do? Capital gains. He turns his money into more money, accumulating more and more. He also exploits tax loopholes and ends up paying a lower percentage than many of his subordinates.
This, he says, is bad for the economy. He shouldn't be able to do that. He says we need to change the system so this kind of thing can't go on. Does it occur to him to maybe...stop doing it himself?! How funny it is that rich democrats believe in taxing the rich in order to provide for the needs of the poor, and yet they often keep most of their wealth for themselves. Sure, maybe they give to charities now and then, but is it ever enough to actually make a dent in their finances? Is it as taxing as their political opinions are?
My message to conservatives and liberals--as well as to myself!--can be summed up in Lennon's words: "Apathy isn't it. We can do something." Apathy in the face of evil is indifference to evil. You can be cognitively aware and attentive to the evil and injustice in the world, but you are ambivalent towards it if you are apathetic. As Thomas Merton says, "How can we claim that our inertia is innocent? It is the source of our guilt."(2)
So, let us not be apathetic. Let us pursue inner and social change. Conservative Christians, listen to the liberal Christians who emphasize social injustice and the need to pursue social change. Liberal Christians, listen to conservative Christians who emphasize the need for one to face one's inner sin and move toward spiritual change.
Are you an angry person? Do you have road rage? Are you impatient? Are you sexually immoral? Are you envious? Do you have addictions? Do you lie a lot? Are you manipulative? Are you selfish?
Whatever your inner vice is, know that your pursuit of the abolition of injustice should begin and end with the pursuit of the abolition of evil within yourself.
Are there people around you in need that you don't help despite having the means? Do you support companies that profit off of cheap and/or slave labor? Are you ambivalent towards care for the environment? Are you ambivalent towards the maltreatment of animals? Are you ambivalent towards the poor? Are you ambivalent toward those in need? Is your political ideology self-focused?
Whatever your social vice is, know that Jesus said failure to be salt to the earth makes one good for nothing (Matt. 5:13).
The steps toward change, social or personal, will for the most part be small. Whether you're trying to be a more Christ-like driver, or you're trying to reduce student loan interest rates, it will be a long, inch-by-inch road. But as Jesus showed with his mustard seed analogy, little things have power, for they can grow. Don't mistake lack of action for realism. As Heschel says, "remain[ing] neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrong done unto other people" is "an evil most of us condone and are even guilty of."(3)
When it comes to social change and personal change, I am guilty of failure in both courts. We all are. The Christian response to that is not apathy. It is not, "What's the use?" The Christian response is to seek the realization of the kingdom of God at all times, through failure and victory, through small changes, big changes, bad changes, or no changes. Apathy is the work of the devil.
"All of heaven is waiting on us. I can hear all of creation crying: 'We're waiting!'" - Jason Upton
(1) Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003), 73-74.
(2) Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), 56.
(3) Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 364.