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What Sins Do You Call Excusable Part II

My last post was inspired by the following quotation from G. K. Chesterton.  “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”  I reflected on how we criticize sins in others that we aren’t susceptible to but excuse those which we are more inclined to commit.  I also pointed out how strongly Jesus condemned this kind of self-justifying personal hypocrisy. 

This time I’d like to look at the issue of institutional hypocrisy or the way in which political “liberals” and “conservatives” often agree on evils but find different ones excusable.  I think that Chesterton was actually referring to this kind of broader cultural excusing of evils. 

You might hear a political liberal make the following statements.  “Well, of course, it is too bad that he was unfaithful to his wife, but he was a great civil rights advocate.”  “Abortion is a tragedy, but we have to understand the difficult situation the woman was in and we mustn’t limit a woman’s choice.”  “Yes, obscene language and gratuitous sex in the movies are regrettable, but censorship violates freedom of expression.”

On the other hand, a political conservative might say, “It is unfortunate that he has a negative attitude towards blacks, but he truly is a wonderful family man.”  “Yes, war is not desirable, and it is too bad that innocent civilians get killed by our bombs, but we must promote democracy around the world and it is unpatriotic to criticize America.”  “No doubt some bankers and brokers have abused the system, but look how much wealth the free market has created.”

What is happening is that there is agreement on the sin or evil, but one is seen as being not as significant as the other.  One value, even norm, is played against another.  There are several dangers in this cultural excusing of sin.

  • It can be used as a means to excuse or cover up our own sins of racism or callousness to innocent human life.
  • The dichotomies of values are the result of a certain ideological position that prioritizes evils and makes us comfortable in tolerating those evils, especially when we are part of a group that does the same.
  • The ideological commitment causes us as individuals and as a group to be unable or unwilling to act against those evils that seem less important or even to oppose opposition to them because such opposition might threaten what we feel are more important goods.  
  • The ideology that controls a group can even lead to justifying evil actions in the name of acting for the good.

For Christians such ideological excusing of evil is unacceptable.  The solution is to allow the Bible to smash our ideological idols and spur us on to repentance and holiness.  The Old Testament Minor Prophets are especially helpful, which is probably why theological liberals and conservatives don’t listen to them.  We’ll look at these neglected biblical authors next time.

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