Sunday, June 04, 2006

Guilt and Salvation

In my last few post I have explored three aspects of human existence and how the problems of Identity, Death and Meaning are overcome in Christian doctrine by the activity of the Holy Trinity. I will now try to say something about salvation by drawing on the ideas explored in these post.

Salvation is an eschatological concept, there is no doubt about that. But this eschatological salvation cannot be known by any other means than by the partial salvation we experience in this life. In this life, faith promises salvation from the forces that tries to destroy our identity, exploit our fears and rob our lives of meaning. In a culture in decline it is not difficult to identify these forces: They are the very same forces that are destroying the planet. What we need to be saved from is the system that turns humans into consumers and that does not value the things that are important to human beings: beauty, truth, relationships, nature, hope. By exploiting these values for commercial purposes they are all destroyed.

It is not possible for a human being to escape this system completely. This is something the ascetics of the early Church testify: When you go into the desert you bring the World with you. We are all part of this system, it exists both outside and inside of us. The salvation that the Christian faith promises is not an escape from the system, it is a way to become independent of it, so that it looses the power over us. This freedom is something we observe in the gospel's portraits of Jesus. He lived in a way that the powers in society could not manipulate him in any way. Not even by killing him.

When we do things that comply with the system we feel guilt. Guilt is the consequence of acts that go against our identity, acts that try to escape our fears (by ignoring them), acts that accept the superficial over the meaningful. The tradition in (western) Christianity to explain guilt in juridical terms is most unhelpful. But guilt understood as what we feel (and I don't mean feel in a superficial way, these are deep feelings) when we betray ourselves is a powerful concept. Understood this way, we can say that Christianity offers salvation from our guilt. Because it is this kind of guilt that the Church teaches that God is willing to forgive us. When you do wrong to you brother, it is you brother you need to ask forgiveness of. But when you betray yourself, you need God.

But salvation is not only the forgiveness of guilt in this sense. It is also the attainment of a new freedom, and for this forgiveness may be a prerequisite.

When talking about salvation in eschatological terms we may get away with abstract notions, but when we understand salvation as something we can experience something of here, we need to be very concrete. We need to address how a Christian person in a real way can be more free from the influences from the forces that control us. This is the purpose of the Church: to help humans in this world become free, because by such acts the Church points towards the future existence.


Marcus said...

I’ve not read everything on your blog and there may be things I’ve missed that you’ve already brought up in more detail that perhaps would ansver some of my questions.

The subjects you are dealing with are, in some ways, “total subjects” that are very hard, for me, to deal with in this scale. I don’t really know how to relate to “the world as a whole” and “salvation” - i take it that what you’re aiming at is rather an individuals world and what’s constituting it – and corrupting it.

When you write: “When we do things that comply with the system we feel guilt. Guilt is the consequence of acts that go against our identity, acts that try to escape our fears (by ignoring them), acts that accept the superficial over the meaningful” - I take it “the system” is society – and more precisely this particular “western” society we are part of, and I also read into your usage of the term “the system” as something that stands for everything bad in our civilisation, in our relations to ourselves, our neighboors and life in general.

“When we do comply with the system we feel guilt”: when do we comply with the system and exactly what makes us feel guilt?

We do have a massive set or rules in our society/societies that do not have a clear connection with morals (not like the connection in “thou shall not kill” were the connetction between law and morals seems to be obvious), and taking a rather flat example of that would be traffic laws: they arrange our lives on the roads in ways that tries to keep us out of harms way – these rules are part of "the system" and it’s not hard to see their usefulness and relevance even if they don’t have anything to do with morals (it seems to me the whole lawmaking part of the society is operating, or tries to operate, in a language use that is purely utilitarian and therefore completely devoid of morals [this might also form a much longer chain of thougt and a comment upon “the system”]).

I don’t find it very likely you had trafic laws in mind – rather you seem to think “the system” as something worldly, or THE world and everything that comes in between humans that makes it possible to be egocentric without, apparently, having to pay any consecuenses for it. “The system” is, in fact, “wanting” us to utilize all means possible to quiet our consciousness and never focus on anything meaningful at all.

But how does one relate to this? I would like to think one has to look at our use of language when we are dealing with commersialism, and what we mean in our language when we speak about or relationships and within our relations. I find it very hard to find a system or a master thought to guide us through, except love, but loves showes itself everywhere where it’s not repressed. (I know I’m passing an enormous subject in a few sentences.)

I don’t find it wrong to buy things – what I find interesting to discuss is the relation these things one buys end up having in my life. Where the things have been made and under what conditions is of course fundamentaly relevant but it’s not, as I see it a philosophical problem.

My general concern, in this rambling, I have no set direction in all this, is what relevance does God have – isn’t the question what do you make your God? What place in your life has all the things one is spending time on, what are you oriented to, can you identify when something comes in between you and your loved ones and what is it, etc.? I find it hard to talk about “the system” because it seems to aim outwards.

Shit – this is not coherent and I’m not getting anywhere. I don’t know how to address this right now. This blog is a good blog – it just begs for serious comments but the totality of the subjects are hard for me to deal with out of the blue – I mean I’m not a theologican and I’m having a hard time with anything explicitly metaphysical, at least right now. I will try give you a smarter comment when I get to it.

(I didn't have a spellcheck available here which might explain some errors.)



Patrik said...

Thank's for you comments, Marcus, I think I might need some time to digest that.

I will adress the question of "the system". I agree that this is problematic choice of words. I'm looking for a term that is not too much colored by religious use. I think you do know what I'm talking about: "everything that comes in between humans that makes it possible to be egocentric without, apparently, having to pay any consecuenses for it." It is pretty much it. But the problem is exactly this: how do we relate to something that has no face, that has no identity, but still exercise a massive influence over our lives? There are two ways, as far I can see, to deal with it: on is to analyze it, to the point that we can actually see the face behind it, and even though I am not competent to carry out such an analysis I fairly sure that the face I would found would be my own. The other way, favoured by religion, is to personify this force, calling it the devil or the demons. We still do this all the time, except today we call the devil G. W. Bush. It's like we need a name on it to be able to handle it. Mabe my system is another word for the devil. Or Bush. Even if I by analysis can reach the conclusion that the system in fact does not have a will, only the people it is made up of have wills, it may still be useful to talk of it as if it had a will because that is something I as a human can relate to.

Ultimatly I think it is this that religion does, it syn-tesizes (as opposed to ana-lyses, loses up) the world, brings it together under some concepts that we can handle.

And then theology critisizes these synthesesis.

(you know a theologian is in trouble when he starts talkin Greek...)

Patrik said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patrik said...

Btw, is that metaphysics? I think it is physics. There is no world to talk about before we talk about it.

3dsmith said...

Guilt was given to us so that we might come to an understanding of our own sin and to give forgiveness for others. Thus without it, we do no wrong. No need to delve into ambiguous theological terms, its too cloudy....