Last week Jonathan in “Whitney Houston’s Missing Will” looked at biolologist Jerry A Coyne’s view that we do not have a will. Coyne is a physicalist (we are simply a physical being) and contends that what anything we view as decisions or actions we may take are essentially preprogrammed into our genes. We don’t have a “will” and any “choices” we make are predetermined, which essentially makes us victims. We may have thought we wanted to do something different but have to ability to act differently than we do. Physicalism is not the only view that holds we are little more than victims in a culture of victims who cannot act differently than we do because we are controlled by something other than our will. Two other areas with a similar view, although the basis is different, are psychology and some segments of the church. I have no doubt that some will react strongly to what I have to say but that doesn’t mean that the following is any less true. Even as I typed this I was reminded of an incident some years ago when I was a pastor of a small church. Joy and I wrote a weekly article for the area newspaper and one of those articles was about what we called the “cry-baby boomer” generation. After if was printed a message was left on the church phone from a disgruntled reader. (By the way, has anyone met a “gruntled” reader?). She began by saying she didn’t know how old we were but why do we always pick on her generation? Joy and I chuckled that the caller was proving our point by seeing herself as the victim of the article. When I called and we talked about it she too saw the irony and was able to laugh at herself as well. But I digress.
For the most part psychology begins with the idea that we are victims. We act the way we act because of how others have treated us in the past and even in the present. Joy has addressed this one in some depth in her article The Great Self Esteem Crisis.
“Low self-esteem” is taking the blame for practically all the ills of our society today. Everything from criminality to poor performance in school is blamed on low self-esteem. It is running rampantly throughout society and the church though battalions of therapists have written countless books on the subject. The problem seems immune to all efforts to eradicate it and, in fact, seems to be worsening.
Just why our collective self-image is getting worse as time goes by is a mystery to me. In times and ages past, children’s psyches were not protected from emotional bumps and bruises as they are today. Yet today, they are considered so fragile.
Sometimes, patients have been diagnosed as victims of maladies that are pure invention. In the 1990s, eating disorders were often diagnosed as being the result of UFO abductions or Satanic Ritual Abuse. People were sent to prison based on memories which were “recovered” (actually invented) during talk therapy with a counselor (we wrote on this in Beware the Rumor Weed). The patient is not responsible for their behavior, they have no will or ability to decide to act differently, they are victims of their past. To even suggest otherwise is itself considered to be an act of abuse. And so, they are trapped in a cycle of abuse in their past and present which prevents them from acting in any other way.
Within the church there is a veritable cottage industry absolving people’s actions, behaviors, and life’s problems on demonic possession. Bill Gothard, Neil Anderson and other purveyors of this very lucrative market have spawned “deliverance ministries.” For the price of a few hours time and a free will offering, you can be delivered from the demon of lust, adultery, fatness or even baldness. Whatever your problem, it isn’t your fault or even the result of living in a fallen world, it is demons pure and simple! As Wayne Stiles notes in The Devil Made Me Do It?
More than thirty years ago Flip Wilson kept America in stitches with his television characters “Reverend Leroy,” the friendly, pompous pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now,” and “Geraldine Jones,” the sassy African-American woman in a miniskirt. Whenever Geraldine would impulsively buy a dress—or do anything she shouldn’t—she excused her urge by uttering the line she made famous, “The Devil made me do it!”
Little did Flip Wilson or any of us realize that the abdication of personal will and responsibility would be so completely legitimized through the avenues of science, psychology and religion, a new unholy trinity.
The victim motif appears in other areas as well. In the culture war politicians claim that the wealthy do not pay their “fair share” of taxes while 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. In his article Kurt Brouwer reproduces an excellent chart showing the figures on this issue and then poses an important question which he goes on to answer:
Now, in all fairness, this chart does not give us the reasons why many in a given income category do not pay income taxes. For example, take two people who are earning $50,000 a year. One pays income taxes and one does not. Why?
The issue here is not the percentage of those who do or do not pay taxes but rather, how this be being used to paint some as victims (those struggling financially) and others as victimizers (those who are financially successful). On this area I can get myself distracted easily and on a new soap box but will exert my will against that urge:D
The claim “It’s not my fault” is not new but nearly as old as creation itself. When Eve disobeyed God, she blamed the serpent (Gen 3:13). Adam, well he blamed God for his disobedience:
The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate”
It wasn’t Eve’s fault, she was a victim of the serpent. It wasn’t Adam’s fault he listened to his wife, it was God’s fault for giving that troublesome woman to Adam to begin with. Even though the claim isn’t new, the work to make it legitimate and the cultural acceptance is new.
The response is fairly straightforward but will be unpopular. First, Adam and Eve suffered as a result of their choice and exercise of their will. Romans 1 reiterates human will and choice over and over. Men who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18). That suppression is an act of the will which the men chose. Everything that follows are the consequences of their willful acts of suppression.
Second, some people truly are victims. Women who are raped, children that are molested, con artists rip off trusting folks and more. The question isn’t do bad things happen, they do. The question is, how we respond. James writes:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”(James 1:2-4, NIV).
We have a choice. We can choose to view ourselves as victims or allow life’s difficulties to strengthen us. A few names of people whose greatness was borne out of extremely difficult lives. Ray Charles lost his sight as a young boy but worked harder than others and became a successful and accomplished song writer and recording artist that influenced nearly all musical genres. Abraham Lincoln was born in a one room cabin in Kentucky. His mother died when he was 9. Lincoln had about 1 year of formal elementary education and was mostly self educated. Nearly all of his earnings until the age of 21 were taken by his father. He went on to become President of the United States, shepherded a divided nation during a bloody Civil War and freed the slaves. While in office his beloved 11 year old son, Willie, died. Battered by life, ridiculed, demeaned and even called names by his staff, he chose to be strengthened by what life brought him rather than to view himself as a victim with no ability to choose. There are many others. In fact, the writer of Hebrews compiles a surprising list of the heroes of faith and after talking about individuals goes on a bit of a rant:
“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. .” (Hebrews 11:32-38)
Not victims but “men (and women) of whom the world was not worthy.” What an indictment against the cry-baby boomers of the modern era.
Third, the dividing line between those who view themselves as victims and those who overcome their harmful urges and drives as well as life’s challenges, is their focus. Victims focus on themselves, while those who over come are focused on God. Two examples come immediately to mind. Jonah and Joseph. Jonah was angry because he knew God would honor Nineveh’s repentance and was angry that his comfort had been taken away and was angry that … Well you get the idea. He was self absorbed and thought himself the victim. Joseph on the other hand was thrown in a pit by his brothers, then taken out and sold into slavery. He was then sexually enticed by his boss’s wife and chose to run the other way. Angry at his rejection of her advances, she falsely accused him of attempted rape and he was put in prison for a fairly lengthy period of time. His focus remained on God not his victimization. Later in life Joseph’s brothers were in fear of retribution but Joseph had exerted his will in an entirely different direction, one of preservation as he told them:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive< .em>. (Gen. 50:20)
The decisions we make and actions we take demonstrate for all to see what we truly believe is important. Are we the center of the universe or is God?