Seemingly minutes after the tragic shootings, like the one in Baton Rouge on Sunday, the blame-game kicks in again. In this case, the blame is laid on police brutality, Black Lives Matter’s rhetoric, the National Rifle Association’s gun lobby, Hollywood’s glorification of violence, social media rants, Christianity’s otherworldliness, Middle America’s ignorance, conservative policies, liberal policies, Barack Obama, Donald Trump—and so on.
And then there’s the understandable distancing of every group: “We decry this violence! We have never suggested, ever, that our program/policies/agenda condones this sort of thing.”
In other words, it’s always someone’s else’s fault. Someone else’s problem. My friends and I are guilt free. My group or cause is not to blame.
We do this because we’re afraid. If our political and social enemies spot any fault, any weakness, we’ll lose power and prestige, as will our just and righteous cause. And we can’t let that happen. So we keep up the front that our side has it completely right and everyone else has it wrong.
But what would our country look like if instead of trying to find blame in someone else’s heart, we examined our own? And what if, in our self-examination, we found some reason to suppose that we may have contributed to the violence that now so commonly, regularly, like clockwork, characterizes American life?
I recently re-read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and was again taken with the religious philosophy of Elder Zosima and his disciple Alyosha Karamazov. It’s best expressed in one of Zosima’s speeches to his fellow monks. He says,
We are not holier than those in the world because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, but, on the contrary, anyone who comes here, by the very fact that he has come, already knows himself to be worse than all those who are in the world, worse than all on earth.
I wonder if what Zosima said to the monks is something he might say to the Christian church today. We are not holier than those in world. We have joined the church because we believe we are worse than all those in the world. One sign of spiritual maturity, if St. Paul is an example, is to come to believe we are the chief of sinners.
Zosima/Dostoyevksy then pushes the idea further:
But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.
This suggests that, in some sense, we are responsible for police brutality; for the decay of the inner city; for police shootings; for lack of sympathy with law enforcement; for politicians and social activists, left and right, that have inadvertently fostered a culture of violence; and so on—“for all people and for each person on this earth.”
To be honest, I don’t quite know what this fully means. We are so locked into an individualistic worldview, that Dostoyevsky’s idea is hard to grasp. But I sense he’s on to something, and we hyper-individualistic Christians would be wise to heed it.