Tuesday, January 13, 2009

an introduction to our series on sin [from the teaching atlas for sin monkey]

Adam ate the apple, and our teeth still ache.
Hungarian proverb

I love stories, especially off-beat stories that break your typical literary molds.

I like George R.R. Martin and Charles Williams.
I like Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. LeGuin.
I like C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy far more than his Narnia books.
I like Max Brooks’ World War Z
that describes how the world almost ends
in the Zombie War.
I like John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood –
but only when there are their sharpest
…and only because Atwood is a Canuck.

And I love the Bernie Gunther stories.

These stories, written by Philip Kerr, are crime noir set in 1940s Berlin. They chronicle the shadowy escapades of a private investigator whose main clientele are Jews fleeing the Third Reich.

His most recent book details the true events surrounding the expatriation of Adolf Eichman, one of the worst of the Holocaust masterminds.

At the end of the book, Eichman flees to a South American hideout. Shortly thereafter, history picks up where fiction left off, and anyone with web-access can easily discover how Eichman was picked up by Israeli undercover agents who transported him to Israel to stand trial. There, prosecutors called a string of former concentration camp prisoners as witnesses.

One was a small haggard man named Yehiel Dinur, who had miraculously escaped death in Auschwitz. On his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man in the bulletproof glass booth - the man who had murdered Dinur’s friends, personally executed a number of Jews, and presided over the slaughter of millions more.

As the eyes of the two men met - victim and murderous tyrant - the courtroom fell silent, filled with the tension of the confrontation. But no one was prepared for what happened next.

Yehiel Dinur began to shout and sob, collapsing to the floor. Was he overcome by hatred? By the horrifying memories? By the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face?


As he later explained in a riveting 60 Minutes interview, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic personification of evil that Dinur had expected. Rather, he was an ordinary man, just like anyone else. And in that one instant, Dinur came to a stunning realization that sin and evil are the human condition.

“I was afraid about myself,” Dinur said. “I saw that I am capable to do this - exactly like he was.”

The horrifying realization Yehiel Dinur experienced is – sadly – we must all one day endure.

Each of us, regardless of our upbringing, our socioeconomic status, our education, our achievements, even our religion, are capable of darkness and harm to a remarkable degree.

Surely, not me – you might say – I’d never do anything so heinous as participate in the Holocaust.

Right. I should hope not. But the Holocaust came from somewhere. It wasn’t as if it was a “neat” idea that a bunch of angry Germans dreamed up one rainy afternoon. It was born much earlier – through national shame, hope for a better future, misplaced allegiance, deception [self-deception, willful deception, etc.] and a host of other “baby-steps” that turned human beings into monsters.

And this is precisely the point – we all have it in us to go bad.

The line between good and evil in this world is never simply between “us” and “them.”

The line between good and evil runs through each one of us.

We must not make the trivial mistake of supposing that a one-off petty thief and a Hitler are exactly alike, that the same level of evil is attained by someone who cheats in an exam as by Bin Laden. But nor must we suppose that the problem of evil can be either addressed or solved if we trivialize it in the other way, of labeling some people “good” and other people “bad.”
N.T. Wright

So, this series is about the evil inside each of us – the evil we call “sin.”

Now, I understand what sin is not a very popular topic. After all, religious dialogue about sin [and sinfulness, etc] often tends towards condemnation. It’s as if we all were at a great party somewhere, and – drunkenly and inappropriately – all the world’s religions personified began to accuse us of being stupid, miserable, dishonest, violent, and unchaste.

Sin feels like a personal insult.

Perhaps there’s no way around that. Perhaps we live in a world that too-frequently excuses our all-too-frequent arrogance.


But, perhaps there are ways to talk about sin that are actually helpful.

That’s what I’m trying to do here.

Sin, after all, is something we need help with. Why? Because it hurts us. Sin is not simply a word we use to talk about the arbitrary preferences of God; it is the word we use to describe the self-destructive behaviors that we all flirt with and that God has outlawed as a means of our protection.

Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden because it is hurtful.
Benjamin Franklin

So, this Teaching Atlas is designed to do three things:
1. help you understand sin and its consequences
2. help you repair the damages caused by sin
3. help you live in such harmony with God that you can sin less, thereby enjoying more of the
great pleasures that God has prepared for you in this life AND so that you can repair the
damages of sin more quickly and more fully

Hopefully, once you’ve been equipped with better understanding and a couple of tools for the journey you’ll find yourself “slipping” into sin less and less – being less of an Adolf or a Rudolph, so to speak – and [again, hopefully] you’ll find yourself seeing the world with new eyes envisioning new possibilities as you shadow God.

Oh – and one more thing! – I almost forgot to tell you.

This Atlas largely deals with sin metaphorically – treating sin as if it were a destructive pet monkey.

I know.

I know!

This sounds dumb – everyone tells me that right off. But give it a chance. I think this metaphor is one of the most powerful and intelligent ways to understand the harmful effects of sin available. If you’ll open yourself up to the theology behind this metaphor, then the metaphor will give you a simple, simple way to understand sin and – more importantly – how to make sin right.

P.S. management accepts no responsibility for craving bananas.

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