31 July 2006

Guilt and Innocence

For those who argue that there are innocent States in the Middle East, I offer these words from Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace. (Abingdon Press, 1996, p. 80)

No one will dispute that the perpetrators are guilty; they are guilty by definition. But what about the victims? Are not they innocent? No doubt, many a person has been violated at no fault of his or her own. Yet even if they are not to be blamed for the violation suffered, should we call them innocent? Let us assume that they were innocent before they were violated. Will they remain innocent after the act? Will they stay innocent as they are drawn into a conflict and as the conflict gathers in momentum? Some heroic souls might, but will the rest? Moreover, rather than entering conflicts at their inception, people often find themselves sucked into a long history of wrongdoing in which yesterday's victims are today's perpetrators and today's perpetrators tommorow's victims. Is there innocence within such a history? With the horns of small and large social groups locked, will not the "innocent" be cast aside and proclaimed "guilty" precisely because they seek to be "innocent"? The fiercer the battle gets the more it is governed by the rule: "Whoever is not fighting with you is strugglings against you." Can victims sustain innocence in a world of violence?

In May, I blogged that I Am A Sinner (who has been forgiven). Don't we love to say that? "Oh yes, Lord, I confess that I'm a sinner." And don't we hate to admit it? "Sin? Because I took revenge on the person who harmed me greatly? Oh no, that's not sin, that's "just retribution."

In Exclusion and Embrace, Volf quotes Cornelius Plantinga (in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin William B Eerdmans, 1995, p. 99)
The heart of sin is…the persistent refusal to tolerate a sense of sin, to take responsibility for one’s sin, to live with the sorrowful knowledge of it and to pursue the painful way of repentance.
We can't tolerate the idea that we ourselves, or those who we support, are sinners. So we make up theologies that directly contradict what Jesus taught about "just war" and "just retribution" and we tell ourselves that our carefully-calculated violence isn't sinful.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Excellent reflections. How God must grieve all our stubborn pride to insist on our own innocence rather than confess our guilt and seek a way out of the spiral of violence.

PamBG said...

Michael: Thanks for your comments and also for your blog. I'm fairly new to anabaptist theology and have some some interesting links to pursue there. (Not the least being a Methodist / Anabaptist conference here in the UK in the autumn!)

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

It's probably kind of "cheeky," for an American to name a blog after an authentic movement of BRITISH radicalism like the 17th C. Levellers, but I have always been such a fan of Richard Overton.

I'm not a Mennonite or Hutterite (the direct descendants of the 16th C. Anabaptists) or even part of the Church of the Brethren (German Pietism mixed with Mennonites and then transported to the U.S. in the 18th C. to avoid persecution--originally called Tunkers or Dunkers). I'm a Baptist and our main origins are Puritan/Separatist--and many don't want to admit to the Anabaptist influence at all. A countryman of yours, Dr. Paul Fiddes, Principal of Regent's Park College, Oxford, says that we Baptists talk about our Anabaptist roots when we want to be radical and call ourselves Puritans when we want respectability--and far too often want more to be respectable than radical!
I just swim upstream against all that. I don't discount the Puritan influence (or the later Great Awakening/Evangelical Revival that also produced the Wesleys), but I draw far more from the Anabaptists: intentional community, simplicity of living, nonviolence, intentional, costly, discipleship (part of the rationale for believers' baptism), radical church/state separation.

Not that I manage to live up to those ideals, mind you.

Grace, sister in your first charge.