Monday, November 09, 2009

Questioning Evangelicals: Corporate Sin

"Corporations and nations don't kill people. Individual bad persons kill people. Individually. Sometimes with guns."

That line of logic is prevalent in my own Evangelical movement. Evangelicals do not recognize corporate sin, this concept that a group of people can be responsible for the sins of the entire group, even if they did not individually sin. Which is odd, to say the least.

First, Christians believe that all of humanity is cursed with the consequences of sin because of the follies of a couple representative members (Adam & Eve). Second, Christians believe that when sin entered the world, it ruined not just them and their offspring, but the whole world. Which includes not just nature, not just hurricanes and tsunamais and earthquakes and other "Acts of God." Every social interaction, every attempt at brotherhood (see Cain and Abel) and community (see Babel) is tainted beyond simple matters of 'me' and 'you'.

But let's look at an example, shall we?

"You shall not murder."
"If someone strikes you on the one cheek, offer him your other cheek."

How are these rather straight-forward Biblical imperatives reconciled in the minds of Evangelical Christians in the light of our constant drumming of war triumphalism? How does a Christian live a moral life and participate as a soldier - if the primary function (not necessarily purpose) of a soldier is to kill?*

A friend tried to help with this disconnect once, using common logic from the EV fray:

"Suppose you're called to the military by your country. You operate in obedience to your country. You fight because you have to. You shoot because you have to. That other person on the other side may, just like you, have a family - kids and a wife. But it's your duty to shoot, to defend your country. You can rest assured that you are not personally responsible for that person's death. The responsibility for the death is on the government's head."

At this juncture, it seems important to note that there are a few meteoritic holes in this argument (like, How come many of the same people who say we have to obey our government in times of war will openly disavow obeying the government in something so paltry as paying taxes? Or, Is it more important to be obedient to my government or to my conscience?), but let's take this example at face value, shall we? What we are told to do here is remove individual guilt and place it on a corporate entity.**

Which is one of the few periods when Evangelicals recognize any sort of corporate sin in any form. Evangelicals are so centered on individual sins (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as committed by each person) that the idea that companies, corporations, local governments, nations (or at least non-Axis-of-Evil ones), industries, markets and their directors and/or members can be held guilty for their actions is foreign to them. The meltdown at Enron, for example, can be blamed on a few reckless people - not a reckless corporate atmosphere of rapid growth and immense competition that precluded false financial reports meant to buff up their image yet accomplishing a wide-scale gang-raping of jobs and safety.

However, if one were to point out the evils rampant in, say, the police force, she will be told that it is the work of a few bad apples.
Likewise, the housing collapse was the work of individual predatory lenders (or, for the less compassionate, individual poor people who should have known better).
The related banking collapse.
The sex slave trade.

These are all the works of isolated individuals, not systemic problems. They just need some Jesus and those problems will be taken care of. Right?

And then there's more massive problems, not so easily deflected to individuals:
Global poverty.
Slavery in general (which is bigger than ever).

Often looking into the abyss of these problems, many fellow Evangelicals would rather not face the 'Why' of these dilemmas (or if they do they turn to overly-simplistic or even racist answers). Instead, they work on trying to serve the people caught in the problems (or, in the "Axis of Evil" example, advocate for war. Again...). Which is beneficial to a point, but severely limited. It only allows us to rescue a few hand-picked individuals and only for a short period of time. Further, the good vibes associated with the rescuing allow us a reprieve from the guilt associated with our comfortable life and all the riches; they allow us to continue to feed into the machines that entrap people. Rather than tearing down the prisons and allowing the prisoners to go free, we're content with sending in a check every once in a while. Rather than confronting our luxurious and wasteful nation. Rather than challenging banking and insurance policies and practices that are clearly unethical. Rather than calling the gods of war and their connections to account for the blood they shed. Rather than picking up our cross daily for the sins of our generation.

We'll just continue to blame individual sin and find a scapegoat here and there. As long as we don't have to be personally responsible for others' sins...

* I do not indict soldiers in this argument. I am merely bringing in a moral argument.
**Except, for many on the Evangelical Right, the sins of the government in declaring war on "our enemies" (currently, Brown People and Muslims) are absolved.

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