Monday, December 10, 2007

"Sundays" are for Volf - Chapter 2: Exclusion

This chapter unsettles, which is what a first-rate exploration of human depravity should do. Modernity made a virtue out of so-called inclusion; Volf exposes its dark underside. The 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans, Volf argues, was not an aberration in the civilized West: "There is far too much 'cleansing' in the history of the West for the horror about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans to express legitimately anything but moral outrage about--ourselves....[T]he medicine itself is making the patient sick with a new form of the very illness it seeks to cure" (60-61). Exclusion sometimes expresses itself as assimilation--"you can keep your life, if you give up your identity"; sometimes as domination, and sometimes as abandonment--keeping the needy at a distance so they "can make no inordinate claims on us" (75).

The answer is not the eradication of boundaries--that would lead to chaos. It must still be possible to make judgments not by achieving some objective stance from which to judge, but by being crucified with Christ which results in a "de-centered center." This "de-centered center"--for some reason the phrase reminds me of the picture in the old Four Spiritual Laws--"opens the self up, makes it capable and willing to give itself for others and to receive others in itself" (71). "[T]he will to be oneself, if it is to be healthy, must entail the will to let the other inhabit the self; the other must be part of who I am as I will to be myself" (91).

Judgement is possible, but it is not a moralistic judgment that makes black and white distinctions between the guilty and innocent, for no one is innocent. "[P]eople often find themselves sucked into a long history of wrongdoing in which yesterday's victims are today's perpetrators and today's perpetrators tomorrow's victims" (80). "In addition to inflicting harm, the practice of evil keeps re-creating a world without innocence. Evil generates new evil as evildoers fashion victims in their own ugly image" (81). (U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" CD came out too late for Volf to write instead, "so you become a monster so the monster will not break you.")

"Solidarity in sin underscores that no salvation can be expected from an approach that rests fundamentally on the moral assignment of blame and innocence....Under the conditions of pervasive one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace" (84-85).

I noted several quotes to consider using in my Gospels class:
  • How could Jesus attract sinners when he made such high moral demands? "The mission of Jesus consisted not simply in re-naming the behavior that was falsely labeled 'sinful' but also in re-making the people who have actually sinned or have suffered misfortune" (73).
  • The Good Samaritan: "Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will though with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half-dead; I can pass--I must pass--by each without much concern" (77).
  • Mark 2:17: "To such a real sense of well-being of nonetheless deeply sick persons Jesus was referring when he said, 'those who are well have no need of a physician'....The truth about their sense of well-being holds them captive to the lie about their illness" (89).
I also wrote (or thought) "working relations among academics" a couple times. What I could have said was "ouch." I'll leave those notes in my copy of the book.

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