I’m starting to notice a pattern; a confluence of compelling thoughts. Ancient and contemporary prophets are speaking, my friend is tugging at his brick in the wall, and I’m in the middle of this great book. And my next section of Ethics begins tonight.
As a citizen of Croatia, Volf sensitively explores the false dichotomy of victim vs. oppressor, and the ways in which oppression creates, sustains, and multiplies victimhood. The ways in which oppression breeds more oppression. We are all oppressors; we are all victims. And those who have been victimized are very likely to oppress others (or to oppress their oppressors, if they get the chance).
In the area of social ethics, we do not start at ‘zero’. Each of us enters into a history full of greed and discrimination, of power and attempts at control. While I honestly don’t know of anyone in my lineage who owned slaves (for example), I’ve seen the (hopefully) diminishing echoes of racism and prejudice throughout a few generations. So, what should I do? When a black man kindly holds a door open for me and addresses me as ‘Sir’, I feel a visceral reaction: “No way, Sir. I should hold the door for you“. The students in my ethics classes are usually very mixed racially and ethnically, and they say this reaction is nice, but crazy. The past is the past. Even those who might deserve and like to see reparations aren’t really hopeful that such measures would help. Affirmative Action is good, we agree, but does it really help in the long term?
Or, as Volf says on page 109: “…what stands in the way of reconciliation is not some inherent incommensurability, but a more profoundly disturbing fact that along with new understandings and peace agreements new conflicts and disagreements are permanently generated.”
And, as Jesus’ brother said long ago, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
It strikes me that the work of partnering with Jesus to bring God’s Kingdom is a mighty work of doing, but also of undoing. Beginning with me.