Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Denouncing in others the sins in yourself, part 3: "We would never do that" you say, while you're doing just that

Fearsome Tycoon wrote something recently about the contrast between a state deciding what punishments to mete out for crimes against individuals verses crimes against the state itself. I couldn't resist pointing out that the state's view of children and infants reveals this gap. There is nothing against the law with respect to aborting an unwanted child but once that child is allowed to be born and registered as a citizen of the United States it becomes a crime to kill the infant. On the basis of what? That once you permit the child's birth it becomes criminal to change your mind? If it isn't criminal to change your mind and abort the child before it is born why is it criminal to kill the baby?

Well, in one sense the simple explanation is that once the child is born the child is considered a citizen and only the state has the power, in its eyes, to decide what citizens ought to live and die. It also can be considered to make sense that prior to allowing the child to be born the child was in the prospective mother's body and the mother has the right to terminate the pregnancy. However, this whole set of observations highlights that the state can consider it onerous to do in one setting what it permits in another.

The thing is that we are all susceptible to this sort of temptation, to permit ourselves what we deny others or to permit to others selectively what we feel free to do ourselves. The subject of abortion can be construed as part of a larger whole. The question may be seen as the conflict between liberty and loyalty, both expected but not always in agreement.

I have thought a lot over the years about the subject of betrayed trust and about what is involved in the feeling of betrayal. Betrayal of trust varies with loyalty. If you learn something through a newspaper or the internet and the information turns out to be wrong you are hurt but you won't feel that your loyalty has been betrayed. If you hear something from a person and act on that knowledge and that knowledge turns out to be false then you WILL probably feel betrayed because the betrayal of trust has probably stopped being tacit and has been made explicit. This doesn't mean that fraud on the internet or through email or through companies isn't bad, just that the level of emotional damage is different because the emotional weight of loyalty invested into the relationship or (more likely) transaction is not as significant as a betrayal of loyalty from a friend, spouse, or child.

At the risk of stating the obvious, betrayals of loyalty (i.e. also known as trust) hurt because we put our trust in the principle of reciprocity. As we have seen from the indications of recent research, the idea that you should favor those who are favorable and punish those who are not helpers and only look after themselves is, as some propose, hardwired into the brains of babies.

Yet (there always seems to be a "yet" in the human condition) this loyalty can actually be a problem and a means to injustice. Many crimes are committed through loyalty and jealousy. The girlfriend or boyfriend who is worth dying for is, we may presume, also worth killing for. Thus people enlist in the military to kill those who would kill their loved ones. Betraying the ideals of the in crowd is worth ostracizing people for and this is why we ostracize those who betray the ideals of our given community.

What happens when your community or the person you give your emotional loyalty to is wrong? What if you are wrong in the emotional loyalty requirements you place on others? Is it equitable to expect emotional and loyalty sacrifices from others even on the premise that you sacrificed X and Y so that person should sacrifice A through W? We do not all view sacrifices in the same way. Christ Himself said that once his disciples had done all that was required of them they were to say that they were not good servants for they had done merely what was expected of them. That is a little digression of the sorts I have many of. And I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Oh well.

It seems that there are active and passive forms of betrayal. The passive form is to have our loyalty taken for granted, the active form is to actively betray loyalty by ending the cycle of reciprocation. The passive form might be that your boss takes your loyalty to and hard work for the organization for granted. You aren't thanked for anything, your work is never praised, and only discussed when it is in some way a failure. An active form of betrayal might be the boss taking credit for work that you did in a setting where work-for-hire is not explicity agreed upon. Another active form of betrayal might be that your boss fires you for standing on principle. Or, actually, you might feel betrayed even if your boss fires you and with good cause because you got fired for something that the boss hadn't bothered to discipline you for before. The sense of betrayal inheres in your understanding of not just what the relationship has been, or is, but also in what you perceive it ought to be in the future.

Now it probably goes without saying that a relationship in which these forms of betrayal occur will tend to reveal both active and passive forms of betrayal. As the old axiom goes, a cheating spouse in sex was cheating in some way before things got to sex. To feel betrayed there has to, at some level, be a measure in the relationship, a determination of one or more parties to keep score. Betrayal is when the score is considered uneven. Betrayal is virtually inevitable when a score is the point of the relationship.

It could be easy to talk about how unspiritual it is to want reciprocity in relationships, particularly in marriage. While spiritual jargon may have that the two think entirely of each other that giving ensures that each recipient is getting. Reciprocity is still fundamentally at play. The score is considered even if the two participants are devoted to not counting the score for themselves but for each other. By "score" I don't mean "happy", I simply mean that so long as both partners in a marriage work on making the relationship work to whatever degree the relationship can be mutually agreed upon the relationship "works". People who don't like each other but stay together for the benefit of the children have a relationship that 'works' even if the most crucial prerequisite for a "relationship" in this culture, mutual attraction and affection, is absent. In Christianese jargon the phrase may be "pursue your wife" or "honor your husband".

While in marriage score-keeping is a recipe for death score-keeping is, arguably, the essence of the courting process. Despite lip service to how unspiritual it may be to keep score it may be useful to point out that score-keeping IS something that God does. If score-keeping were not in some sense an issue in life itself, to say nothing of the Christian understanding of salvation, there would never be terms like "ransom" or "atonement" or "mediation". I don't care what theories you think you do or don't hold on these issues, the Christian faith posits that through Christ God has settled the score on our behalf instead of on behalf of death. Part of the reign of death is that in this age we look everywhere and can see many cases where the score is not even. People ask of us sacrifices that are not commensurate with the sacrifices they seem willing (or unwilling) to make on our behalf. If you are keeping score you are setting yourself up for disappointment and yet the truth is that we all keep score. Even BABIES, it seems, know how to keep the score in observing helpers and hinderers.

With the sort of background I have loyalty is pretty important. If you sacrifice for someone then though you might prefer to not explicitly cash in on owed favors you might be tempted to mention what you have done in the past as leverage to get something you want now. This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the sort of thing that is startlingly easy to lapse into doing yourself without consciously knowing of it while being tempestuously aware of it in other people. It sometimes seems as though it could in some sense be a family weakness, the tacit score-keeping about who does what for whom because one is family. This seems, I think, an essentially normal part of family life.

I am, though I dare to say this foolishly on the internet, what I would consider a pretty loyal person. Once I give my loyalty to someone or something it lasts a long time. I have a friend I still consider a friend after fifteen years even though he has renounced his faith and shifted from being a conservative to a liberal. We are not quite so close now as we were at first for geographical reasons but I still consider him very much a friend. It was he who said of me that I am very loyal and that I have been loyal to him as a friend beyond anything he could imagine someone else putting up with after the crap he talked about religion and politics. For other people, I suppose, having a good friend abandon the shared values of religious belief and a particular branch of political or social thought and the subsequent changes in applied ethics might be a great big deal-breaker. For me it is not. I believe that loyalty means choosing to be pragmatic about expected results rather than the people you connect yourself to.

But not everyone is like this. Some people see people essentially as resources to use. You use the winners and off-load the losers, however you choose to define the nature of the loser. I once heard a pastor state from the pulpit in the plainest possible language that you should do a big inventory of your friends to find out who is helping you meet your goals and who is simply wasting your time, draining your life of energy that should be devoted to pursuing your plan. With God as my witness I'm not making that up. I remember being mortified by the statement but a lot of people, a freakishly large amount of people, didn't seem to bat a single eye.

How do people who have this user mentality about people become pastors? Well, they persuade people like me (i.e. those whose loyalty is driven by devotion to people rather than ends) that their goals are admirable and sanctioned by the Lord. They persuade people like me that though other churches or causes have faltered THIS one is different, THIS one is special, THIS one won't be a grand royale screw-up like all the others that are the majority of human experience. Samaria has gone astray but JUDEA will perservere against all odds and bring about the true nature of the Kingdom of God. I and thousands of other people bought into that.

If I get upset that many people choose the pragmatism of personal loyalty over means that are justified by ends then I have to recognize that my criticism of others reveals my own weakness in this area. Perhaps I can learn from those whose besetting sin is to simply use people and throw them away once they have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps there is a kingdom purpose in that. Perhaps I, too, should make a list of those friends who are wastes of time and who are keeping me back like that pastor did and advised others to do. I don't wish to.

Yet it may be that I have something to learn from that man's example as he has lived it out. A person may claim to be a nobody wanting to tell everyone about somebody in public and then in private just throws his weight around and insists on getting his way or the people who disagree with him are under God's judgment. No, I'm not necessarily talking about someone like Benny Hinn or the "touch not God's annointed" crowd. But a person who makes the public appeal can fall far short of the substance of the appeal in the lived life despite it being a sincere goal.

I, at length, began to realize that though God has His times and purposes this person the person was now, for the most part, a time-waster for me. He ISN'T for other people, let me assure you, but I have learned from his example of trimming back on useless people by recognizing that his role in my life is no longer particularly helpful. I have providentially ended up in a setting where I hear more responsible expository preaching in a setting where there are less impulses to reinvent the wheel.

The person alluded to had an immensely positive influence years ago, and for that I am grateful to the Lord. But the Lord could have used anyone else to do that. The nobody doesn't really grasp what a nobody he is in God's design because a bunch of somebody's take him seriously (as well, I suppose, they either should or simply will anyway despite any contrary suggestions).

It's tough for me to realize the full significance of the knowledge that a strength can often be a weakness. When I feel my loyalty has been taken for granted or has been abused I can get REALLY bitter. It's not pretty. It doesn't look very loud or anything. I'm not a shouter or a screamer. It's more likely to be the slow burn and stretches of silence or sarcasm. There is a quirk about me that I'm not sure even my family members necessarily remember about me--there is a roughly inversely proportional relationship between how close I feel to someone and how often I am likely to tease them. Sarcasm I save for debate on aesthetics and other intellectual activities. Sarcasm at a personal level is rare for me unless I'm dealing with someone who at an emotional level I just can't take very seriously.

During the times when I was angry and upset at people pragmatically placing relationships over principles I was unaware that I have this weakness. Those people who place aims over people upset me, and continue to upset me, but it may be the Lord has something for me to learn from them. Not everything we learn through observation is always what we ought to emulate. In fact a great deal of scripture is written as a warning to us of how NOT to do and be and think on any number of things. Even a Jehosaphat can make dangerous alliances that cost him while not putting his love for God into question. Scripture is full of godly men who despite their good intentions made spectacularly stupid and devastating decisions. David's reign ends, more or less, on the brink of disaster. Why?

Well, to venture a risky summary, David had the same kind of problem I find that I have, pragmatically valuing relationships over goals. This is not the opposite problem in principle to the users of people for goals because whether you use people to obtain objectives or use people to feel better about yourself you are still facing the temptation to use people for your own ends. Sometimes a person can be upset about the sin of someone else without realizing that their own life forms a kind of doppleganger, a mirrored image of the problem in someone else. One side is white and the other black and the two sides may be distributed differently but the mixture does not change in the nature of being mixed. I await, like the apostle, deliverance from these things. I trust I am being delivered from these things now but this process is not complete.

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