Sin – an ethical case for God?

In the previous post, I commented on Keller’s existential argument for belief in God in his book The Reason for God.  Keller, sounding a bit like Paul Tillich, argued that each person effectively deifies some role or goal, and the only way to avoid existential disappointment is to put our infinite trust in an infinite God.  If we find meaning in our friends and jobs, we will be shattered when they let us down.

But Keller doesn’t think that idolatry – treating finite goods as though they are the infinite God – is a risk only to the idolaters themselves.  According to Keller, idolatry puts everyone at risk.

The Sin of Self- Centeredness

If our highest goal in life is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic. [1]

In his book A Scandalous Providence, Frank Tupper makes a similar point.

The self turns into iteslf to gain stability within the self, the self-securing a failure to trust God . . . [2]

Unlike Timothy Keller, Tupper, takes his analysis further, locating the origin of this dangerous tendency towards self-centeredness in evolution.

Emergent human persons socialized within a particular community in a world stamped with indescribable, commonplace violence to protect its societal life.  Actually, self-preservation is the most significant factor relating earlier animal forms to the human animal in biological evolution, for self-preservation in the dawning of human existence involved the problem of self-protection through violence, the acquisition of food by violence, and the resolution of the fear of “the Other” with violence. [3]

Early human beings depended on desperate violence to preserve themselves against other animals and other human tribes.  Pacifist tribes, had they ever existed, would presumably have been quickly removed from the gene pool by starving warriors of neighboring tribes.  The genes and societal structures that survived the fires of early human life left a deep, violent mark on “human nature.”  Violent self-centeredness continues to this day.

Imagine a world where everyone could see beyond their own self-interests.  Imagine a world where the well-being of us isn’t more important than the well-being of them.  It’s hard to fit racism, war, and interpersonal ugliness into that picture.  The rich wouldn’t hoard their resources away from the poor, because rich kids would no longer be inherently more important than poor kids.  Nationalism would evaporate.  Globalization wouldn’t be so scary.  I would like to live in that world.  I would like to live that way.  But self-centeredness – sin – holds me (and us) back.

The Solution

What can we do about sin?  How do we opt out of the natural human tendency towards violent self-preservation?  The solution, say Tupper and Keller, is to center our lives around the God of love instead of ourselves and our tribes.  To borrow Paul Tillich’s phrase, if we are ultimately concerned with someone outside of ourselves, someone who loves each person equally, than we will be less taken by racism and self-preserving violence.  Threats to me and my group are less threatening if what really matters to me is God, who loves each person.

Of course, a shocking 81% of white Evangelical Christians who voted in the recent U.S. election say they voted for Donald Trump, a man who expressed precious little sensitivity towards people outside of the in-group of white, Christian America.  A recent conference of global Evangelicals expressed concern, claiming that Donal Trump “will harm the Church’s witness“.  It’s hard to escape the impression that Donald Trump considers American workers to be more important than workers oversees, the safety of American citizens more important than the safety of Syrian refugees, Christians more important than Muslims.  As this election has shown, belief in God does not necessarily inspire believers to care more about outsiders and less about themselves, at least on the scale of national politics.

Like most of Keller’s arguments for God, the potential political payoff of theism does little to demonstrate that God is anything more than a human projection.  As such, Keller fails to address one of my biggest questions.  Even so, I still think that Keller and Tupper have a point.  At least in theory, believing in a benevolent God should help me to resist discrimination and violence in my own heart and in the world at large.

 

References

[1] Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 175. Print.

[2] Tupper, E. Frank. A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2013. 185. Print.
[3] Ibid. 186. Print.

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