Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reading Tillich 16: Collective Guilt

The citizens of a city are not guilty of the crimes committed in their city; but they are guilty as participants in the destiny of man as a whole and in the destiny of their city in particular; for their acts in which freedom was united with destiny have contributed to the destiny in which they participate. They are guilty, not of committing the crimes of which the group is accused, but of contributing to the destiny in which these crimes happened. In this indirect sense, even the victims of tyranny in a nation are guilty of this tyranny. But so are the subjects of other nations and of mankind as a whole. For the destiny of falling under the power of a tyranny, even a criminal tyranny, is a part of the universal destiny of man to be estranged of what he essentially is.
Systematic Theology II, 59.
(Tillich's understanding of destiny)
Tillich says this in the context of discussing the collective guilt of the Germans after WWII. But he could just as well be talking about citizens of Iraq under Saddam or Citizens of the USA under Bush, or any of us in the context of a world where multinationals destroy the environment and exploit third-world labour to sell cheap t-shirts.

The idea is one that is usually found among mystics such as Master Eckhart or - you guessed it - Isaac of Nineveh. Isaac at one point asks the reader why he judges the sinner. "Should you not judge yourself for not having done all that is in you power to prevent the sinner from falling?" The point is essentially that we are all deeply connected to each other in ways that are not always obvious to us. That means that whenever we call another human being enemy, we are in fact attacking ourselves, because we have some responsibility for the circumstances that have made the other person into the person he or she is. We participate in their destiny.

This is, IMO, a infinitely more dynamic way to understand the protestant notion that we are all sinners. Because it is from this situation that we need to be saved.

5 comments:

byron said...

I find this a very interesting idea. We are our brother's keeper (and our sister's too).

Ben Myers said...

Hi Patrik. An unrelated comment:

The other day I was visiting a theological library here in Brisbane. As I sat at a desk reading, I overheard a loud and animated conversation between some students and lecturers. They were all laughing and talking about the "Systematic Theology World Cup" -- and they thought it was especially hilarious that Karl Barth was disqualified for using research assistants!

So your World Cup is famous even here in obscure Australian libraries....

Patrik said...

:)

Actually, I'm planning a post on the long-term effects of that tournament soon.

byron said...

What I want to know Ben, is why people were talking in a library! What kind of place is Queensland...

Ben Myers said...

You're right, Byron: we Queenslanders are a rowdy mob. I was actually a little annoyed at first, until I realised what they were all talking about!

Incidentally, the most striking thing about their conversation was that no one could remember who actually won the contest -- their most vivid memory was simply Barth's disqualification. To put it theologically (borrowing a phrase from Moltmann), Barth was "present in his absence."