Monday, May 08, 2006

A special deformity of conscience?

There are crimes which no one would commit as an individual which he willingly and bravely commits when acting in the name of his society, because he has been (too easily) convinced that evil is entirely different when it is done ‘for the common good.’ As an example, one might point to the way in which racial hatreds and even persecution are admitted by people who consider themselves, and perhaps in some sense are, kind, tolerant, civilized and even humane. But they have acquired a special deformity of conscience as a result of their identification with their group, their immersion in their particular society. This deformation is the price they pay to forget and to exorcise that solitude which seems to them to be a demon.

From Disputed Questions by Thomas Merton
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, New York, 1960) Page 183.


This quotation from Thomas Merton underlines what I was writing about in my 'E' Word post the other week. We, as Christians, the very people who ought to be immune to this sort of thing, practice it regularly as part of our denomination identity. In point of fact, it's very rare these days that we do it on racial grounds, but when we come to matters of conscience, or worse, matters of sexual identity, then we are right up there with the professionals. Consider the following quote from an Evangelical social concern website:

"Christians would never want to be homophobic or discriminate against homosexuals out of bigotry or prejudice. Christians of course earnestly desire the repentance and salvation of homosexuals. However, the Bible is clear that the only rightful sexual relationship for which we were created, is a relationship between a man and a woman. Consequently there are times when Christians need to be free to discriminate against homosexuals."

Really? Should we be free to discrminate against people? Again, I have to refer us to the popular wristband slogan, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Now remember, the Bible is far clearer about the only rightful sexual relationship between a man and a woman being within marriage than it is about homosexual relations. Yet, do we find Jesus "discriminating against" adulterers? Remember, he let one go off to act as the first recorded evangelist even before she had straightened out her tangled sex life (John 4:28-30) - and he saved another from the punishment decreed by the Law of Moses (John 8:3-11) using the extraordinary words, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." Forgiveness and counsel, even trust for ministry. I don't see discrimination there.

Remember, I'm writing about adultery, the only cause for which Jesus permitted divorce out of hand. A capital offence, according to the Law. Jesus said plenty against adultery, yet when confronted with actual adulterers, women adulterers at that, against whom his culture discriminated most rigorously, he behaved with the most astonishing love and generosity. About homosexuality he said not a recorded word, for or against; and yet we claim Scriptural warrant (a warrant which on careful analysis raises all manner of exegetical and hermeneutical questions - but that's another issue altogether - read this for one interesting point of view) to behave more harshly to homosexuals than Jesus did to adulterers. If anything qualifies as an example of Merton's "special deformity of conscience," I reckon that does.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mike. You so often recently restore my faith in mankind...

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