Reference: Genesis 3:8-15
It is very easy in modern life to lose touch with the basics. We live mostly indoors, away from nature, in an artificial “climate-controlled” world, never hot or cold, where the products necessary for life come from the supermarket, the mall or, increasingly, from the computer. Even relationships are moving towards a virtual existence. The human faces of daily life are fading, replaced by a machine, sensor or mobile app.
In the process, we are in danger of losing touch with a number of things. Among the most serious is the loss of community, which allowed previous generations to be shaped in a social environment, the self growing by reflection from the feedback, in many forms, of others. Community feedback is both good and bad, of course. It can be very unpleasant to interact with others in real life, to be assigned a place in the order of things not necessarily of one’s own choosing. Virtual reality has advantages, one of the greatest in being unchallenged to either reach out to others or to see inside one’s self as others see you. You can even invent yourself to be whoever you want, if you have the acting ability to pull it off.
Among other things, the interactions of virtual communities can become just simply very nasty. If you have the stomach for it, read extensively the comments posted responding to various blogs, or even from Facebook “friends.” Even if you stick to the realm of Christian content, the comments often are abusive, frequently off the subject, full of name-calling and very light on substantive criticism or enlightening contributions. The national political scene has devolved to celebrities (I use the term widely to include political leaders, since it is currently difficult to differentiate between political and entertainment personages) and others to throw foul language, bad names and other verbal trash at each other. These epithets and insults are frequently followed by an apology, which has the earmarks of the advise, “always be sincere, whether you mean it or not.” The trash thrown by the other “side” is awful (the fact that Americans divide into “sides,” with a deep gulf in between, is in itself deeply disturbing). The same material, used by my “side” is a justifiable reaction to the bad dudes on the other side.
The impact of all this slop is generally measured by how it affects ratings and poll numbers, rather than how it contributes to the progress of the nation. Of course, none of it contributes squat to making the nation stronger, our people better cared for, our economy improved nor, to say the least, to better values.
What has gone so wrong that a word like “feckless” actually is a moral and literary high point? It contributes nothing to solving our problems, but at least is not obscene and is obscure enough to send our present leaders scurrying to the dictionary to add to their 400-word vocabulary. But even it is hardly a nice term, nor does it tell you anything except that one bloody-minded verbal combatant can hurl it at another. People who would never say such things face to face, nor in a letter to the editor think nothing of blasting such garbage with a few strokes on the keyboard or a running mouth on TV.
All this is a more or less intentional circus to keep us distracted while in real life serious changes are happening to the way we run schools, public lands, banks, foreign policy, corporations and to the rule of law itself. The dialog which should be focused on these issues instead is playing us as we prepare to be shocked by how gross, obscene or insulting the next comments in high places will be. After the first shock wave wore off, shame on us for continuing to be led astray by the dramatic, but ultimately meaningless sideshow.
It would be encouraging, sort of, if we could point to this as a new phenomenon, because then a simple return to the past rational approach to deciding national matters would solve it. However, while the electronic enabler is very new, the drive behind the distracting septic sludge is not.
It is clearly present already in Adam and Eve. It is too bad that debates over the chronology, physical reality, authorship and other aspects of what “literal” means, in themselves often distract us from the point of the story. What Adam and Eve are doing in chapter three seems quite relevant to the modern scene.
They have been granted a land that is a fabulous paradise, with abundance of all that they need to thrive and enjoy. They have reacted by rebelling, in an attempt to be the most powerful, most omniscient beings in existence. When their coup is discovered and quashed, they flee into hiding instead of doing the introspection necessary to produce repentance and learning. When God turns out to be much smarter than they had reckoned, they try a final bit of fake news, which of course, God doesn’t buy. Still unwilling to repent, they then ditch loyalty to their fellow-conspirators and blame them. Eve blames the serpent, Adam blames Eve and in the ultimate hubris, blames God for giving him Eve. God has given them the freedom to choose how they wish to live, in loving obedience or in contentious rebellion, so he makes no attempt to veto their decisions. Nevertheless, he only partially protects them from the catastrophic consequences of their choices.
America is a land that is a fabulous paradise, with abundance of all that is needed to thrive and enjoy. Who would want to choose other than to live in loving obedience to such a beneficent Lord, thriving in our plenty, sharing it with those who are needy, and treating all peoples by reflecting a similar abundance of love? Americans have reacted by wanting to be the most powerful, most omniscient nation ever. Repentance for the American style of life is unthinkable, even if we must delude ourselves with fake news concerning the consequences of our lack of both love and obedience. Blame becomes the most abundant of conversations, as we sink into an existence of paranoia, violence, domination, and xenophobia, with the shock value of an acrimonious and vicious dialog of juvenile name-calling as entertaining distraction from the realities. God is unlikely to protect us as a nation from the predictable consequences.
One of the saddest icons of all history is that of Adam and Eve, standing “86’ed” outside Eden, the way back blocked by the angel with flaming sword and unrelenting determination. At this point, it may well be the eleventh hour, we do not know (or even later, if we are to believe the operators of the “Nuclear Doomsday Clock”). But I am reminded of St. John Chrysostom’s famous Easter sermon based on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Adam and Eve failed to repent. But we still can, even at the eleventh hour. In the wideness of God’s mercy, the doors can even now swing open. If the nation will not repent, as Nineveh at the behest of Jonah, all we can do is to offer our own repentance and amendment of life, and take as many with us as we can.