Daily life really makes you think. News stories, events, and reports of atrocities, stupidities, crimes and the messes of human interactions bombard us on a constant basis. It is hard to truly buy in to the popular notion that we are essentially good and that faults are always the cause of some unforeseen, but blameworthy force or fact that does not include human culpability?
Many years ago in response to experience from clinical practice with those seeking therapeutic help, M. Scott Peck wrote a book called The People of the Lie in which he documents the amazing ability we seem to have to hide from ourselves. In case after case, facts were assembled, information was presented, the conclusions were obvious, showing real blame, guilt, moral responsibility. But those in the chair or in the limelight steadfastly denied the implications, avoided direct questions and would not own any sense of their wrong doing, hence the focus of the book.
Over the years I have been intrigued by this phenomenon, not least because of an interest in WWII and those who committed such great evil that seemed so obvious. But was it (to them)? Gitta Sereny was a writer who interviewed several of the leaders involved in the Nazi atrocities and in their leadership. One of these was Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s favorites. Despite having come forward with confessions about the Third Reich and writing extensively about it all, he could not own his own guilt in the deaths of so many in slave labor or his real awareness of the Holocaust. Sereny pressed him in many interviews but it was like a wall of separation in his conscience, he could not face the truth, he could not face himself, he could not own what it would mean.
It is easy and could be cavalier, to select extreme examples of this kind of thing, but the reality is that it is an all too real human thing and impacts us all. I hear the objections being raised: I have never committed atrocities or been involved in anything like this, yet in a myriad of ways there are lots of daily life experiences, if we will be honest, where indeed we have, and do, cover over our wrongs with convenient rationalizations.
As a young, and probably naïve believer, I once spoke up in a church serve seeking to confront gossip and its impact as we came to the worship service. I was gently told by an elder “that there was no gossip in the church, only tittle tattle (unknown Scottish idiom).” I could have pointed out that he was the object of some of these vicious accusations and comments I was hoping to stem. Instead, I was to learn that truth and honesty do not always come together as one would like.
Despite a rigorous Jewish upbringing and a very serious commitment to the Law, holiness, and moral conformity, Saul of Tarsus who would later become the Apostle Paul wrote some of the most descriptive, and relevant words in literature on human experience. In Romans Chapter 7, he artfully describes the tension between wanting or desiring the right or the good but doing the wrong. It is a very dramatic and powerful picture of internal struggle, of wrestling with a real power, with being overcome by something greater, something more demanding and something he does not want. The sense of helplessness leads to despair: except for the good news. There is a deliverer, there is an answer, there is help, and it is not an idea but a Savior.(1)
The Christian view of the human condition, both in its descriptive power but also in its healing vision and answer, is a wonderful remedy to a culture of denial and to those trapped with a sense of guilt and shame. It is a truth worth considering but then it also demands honesty to embrace.
Stuart McAllister is regional director for the Americas at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See Romans 7:25.
Hear more on the intricate question of what it means to be human with Stuart McAllister and the RZIM team this summer:
The Human Condition: Noble and Flawed, June 14-19, 2015 at Georgia Tech University, Atlanta
Join members of our world-class team and special guests from critical disciplines as we consider the multifaceted nature of humanity, our fears and aspirations, laments and longings—our flaws and our nobility.
Reduced or Redeemed: What Does It Mean to Be Human? June 28-July 3, 2015 at Tyndale University and Seminary, Toronto