No one has a problem stating, “The world is messed up.” After everyone hugged it out and agreed unanimously over this statement, the next question to answer would be: “What is wrong with the world?” The responses would be varied, but generally speaking you would get a litany of responses focused on “corporate” or “systemic” issues. Things like, “economic inequality, racism, sexism, political parties, etc.” These issues indeed contribute to the world as we know it. Yet in acknowledging these issues, have we overlooked something closer to home?
David Martin, a sociologist, notes that the dominant metropolitan culture of our day “has no sense of personal guilt and yet possesses an excoriating sense of collective sin.” By this statement, Martin is suggesting that culturally speaking we are much more prone to be aware and heightened by systemic and corporate issues, while having almost no self-awareness of our own contribution to the world being messed up. To put it another way, our culture views the problems in the world as something “out” there, while not recognizing our own contribution to the world as we know it.
One of the most resisted, and yet I think clearly visible truths that the Christian faith offers, is its view on humanity (which is not flattering). In short, it says we are not good people who do bad things, but rather we are by nature sinful. One of the theological phrases used to describe the effect is the Latin phrase: “Incurvatus in se” which says our natural inclination is to live a life ‘inward” for oneself rather than “outward” for God and others. While embracing this is not pleasant at first, if it is true, it is actually essential to addressing these issues. In doing so, I am not abdicating a dismissal of the the “corporate” and “systemic” issues of our day, but rather a deeper and more fundamental problem that if embraced allows for greater self-awareness and a way forward that is more holistic than before.
Recently, I read an article in the Cap Times where a local leader was highlighting the inequality between blacks and whites in our city. The leader, a person of color, was trying to help educate white people in our community on the disparity and call them to help bridge the gap by supporting minority businesses. A white person in attendance stood up and responded with, “Why should I help them, I am doing just fine?” The individual who stood up was in agreement that racism was an issue, but I would humbly suggest they had no self-awareness to the “incurvatus in se” that was affecting them to live a comfortable life lived for self, while neglecting their neighbor.
What if our city was made up of people, who would look out and not just see the problems out there, but actually had the self-awareness and humility to confess their own apathy, selfishness, and indifference? Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but I think the world would be a better place if our view of the world’s problems included our selves in the mix.
In the 20th century, after two world wars, The London Times asked the great British thinker, G. K. Chesterton to write a series of three articles answering the question, “What is the problem with the world?” Chesterton responded with a single brief letter which read, “Dear Sirs, the problem with the world quite frankly is me. Respectfully, G.K. Chesterton.”