Victims All

Branden Henry thinks that some (many?) Americans are in denial about race relations in the U.S. Take, for instance, the white supremacists who marched last summer in Charlottesville:

Playing the Victim – This, right here, is what we witnessed in Charlottesville. Grown white men marching against Jews and Blacks because the white men believe they are being replaced. These same folks who cry foul when minorities attempt to be treated as equal are the same folks who tend to ignore the genocide of the native people of this continent, as well as ignore the long-lasting effects of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. on black persons. These people remind me of the husbands I work with who get angry at their wives when their mistresses are discovered. It is absurd and downright shameful.

Henry has a point. Thinking that whites have had it anywhere near as bad as descendants of slaves is folly. But has Henry considered what happens if economics (class) trump race? What happens if we experience forces even larger and more powerful than structures that perpetuate racism? Finding critics of capitalism who see it as sufficiently powerful to shape (or even change) human nature is not difficult.

Consider this:

My argument in Desiring the Kingdom is that, in fact, the vast majority of our action and behavior is “driven” by all sorts of unconscious, pre-cognitive “drivers,” so to speak. Those pre-conscious desires are formed in all sorts of ways that are not “intellectual.” And so while I might be fueling my mind with a steady diet of Scripture, what I don’t realize that is that all sorts of other cultural practices are actually forming my desire in affective, unconscious ways. Because of the sorts of creatures we are, those pre-conscious desires often win out. This is why it’s crucial that Christian spiritual formation – and Christian worship – is attentive to a holistic formation of our imagination.

Or this:

Nike seems well aware that the good life can be on display on the living icons that are today’s celebrities.

I’m using Smith’s book in my classes to teach my students about how culture shapes us to be particular kinds of people–people that perhaps we did not know we were before we thought about it in class. We’re learning just how substantially we’ve been shaped by culture, rather than how much we think we’re immune to outside influence. Contrary to how we might imagine ourselves, we’re not autonomous, deliberative, rational, choice-making creatures. Often, we’ve been habituated into certain ways of being and doing in the world, before we’re even aware of it. You were saying the Pledge of Allegiance before you had much of a choice in the matter. And by the time you had a choice, you simply would have chosen to keep doing it because you would have been habituated into the story of why it was good to do so.

Learning about this phenomenon of our cultural formation is a strategy to help us think about how we might participate in the counter-formative efforts of influencing the world in manners that are faithful to the ways of Jesus, rather than damaging and destructive ways of culture. Consumerism–the sort that Nike seems able to foster–is often damaging and destructive. It makes us competitive–we start comparing ourselves with each other and our relationships get bent way out of shape. It messes with our desires to the extent that our sense of satisfaction becomes insatiable and we know no contentment. It even replaces religion, and we end up chasing transcendence by means of consumption.

Or this:

In the late nineteenth century, argues Leach, advances in industrial technology, the availability of electricity, and the newly available means to pool vast amounts of capital made production much cheaper and hence threatened to flood the market with goods. This worried capitalists greatly. Marketing consequently acquired the purpose not merely of informing potential customers how a given product might fulfill their existing needs, but of creating new desires. As one proponent of the new culture, Emily Fogg Mead, wrote, it was imperative that Americans be awakened to “the ability to want and choose.” What was needed was a moral reeducation, the replacement of traditionally religious values with consumer values.

Thus, one of the new breed of merchants, Alexander Turney Stewart, was hailed by Harper’s Bazaar for freeing Americans “from the guilt of having wealth and desiring money.” L. Frank Baum, who was not only the author of The Wizard of Oz but a pioneer in the creation of the display case and show window, counseled hedonism: “To gain all the meat from the nut of life is the essence of wisdom, therefore, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’—for tomorrow you die.” To inculcate the ability to forget the past was a key aspect of the needed moral reeducation. Harry Selfridge, superintendent of Marshall Field’s, exhorted his staff “to forget the past, and deal more and more with the present.” Likewise, Mead “urged businessmen to penetrate the home, break down the resistance of ordinary housewives, and ‘forget the past’ in their pursuit of profits.”

That’s why we need churches that ordain women and podcasts that use the latest audio software to teach us how to resist such cosmic forces.

Or, it could be that people actually have agency and make calculations all the time — based on reality, like, even though I really want the BMW I don’t think I can afford those car payments. Or, as much as I’d like to wear Joseph Abboud suits all the time, that might not be the right look on campus (and may be a tad more expensive than piecing together items from Jos. A. Bank and L. L. Bean).

I do understand that consumerism creates certain desires. But we are not 16-year olds with dad’s credit card. Some people make better decisions than others. Capitalism and big business have not turned us into victims. Even fans of Bojangles sometimes crave a meal at Waffle House.

38 thoughts on “Victims All

  1. How do the Reformed confessional types define “agency?” Is it all as simple as Nancy Reagan once said, “just say no?” I’m getting visual pictures now of Louis C.K. telling his daughter no in regards to the use of her cell phone while a little bit later pulling his pants down and masturbating in front of one of his female comedian friends. Or, Solomon writing one of his proverbs about staying away from the lurking women at the gates who will bring your soul down to Sheol while later making subtle sexual innuendo’s to Cleopatra the Egyptian Queen.

    I did run across the following while surfing the web the other day- compare and contrast Reformed anthropology with Lutheran anthropology. I’m not sure if either one is really describing the truth about human nature or human anthropology- either in Adam or in Christ. I thought the commentary on Psalm 119 was pertinent to this post:

    Luther tends to think of Christians as two persons at the same time, not two natures.

    Mark Seifrid—In contrast to the puritans, Luther finds a radically different anthropology in Scripture . The Law speaks even to us who are regenerate as fallen human beings. Being a Christian means again and again, in all the trials and temptations of life, hearing and believing the Gospel which overcomes the condemnation pronounced on us by the Law and by our own consciences in which that Law is written.

    Mark Seifrid—-According to the puritan perspective, Law and Gospel do not address the believing human being in radically different ways, but only in differing degrees according to the measures of “grace” present within them. …. The embedding of the Law within grace qualifies law’s demand—while the Law works the death of sinners, it has a different effect on the righteous. The puritans regards the “flesh” is present as a power that exerts partial influence on us.

    Luther finds a radically different anthropology in Scripture. The old, fallen creature exists as a whole alongside the new creature, who is likewise a whole. The picture of the human being is either darkness or light, without any shading of tones. There is no “intermediate state” in which we receive instruction but escape condemnation. In so far as the Law deals with our salvation (and does not merely guide our outward conduct), it pronounces our condemnation. The Law speaks even to us who are regenerate as fallen human beings. Being a Christian means again and again, in all the trials and temptations of life, hearing and believing the Gospel which overcomes the condemnation pronounced on us by the Law and by our own consciences in which that Law is written.…/uploads/2010/07/sbjt_102_sum06-seif…

    Psalm 119 strikingly ends on the same note as Rom 7:24: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek your servant! For I do not forget your word” (Psalm 119:176). The whole psalm is summarized in this closing statement. The one who delights in the Law of God, who recounts it, meditates on it day and night, and clings to it, nevertheless does not yet know it in his heart and experience, and repeatedly appeals to the Lord to teach him. As he implicitly confesses in the opening of the psalm, his ways are not yet “established” in keeping the Lord’s statutes. He still is ashamed when he considers them (Psalm 119:5-8). In view of these petitions and the closing of the psalm, there is good reason, contrary to usual practice, to render the whole of Psalm119:9 as a question: “How shall a young man purify his way? How shall he keep it according to your word?” This petition recurs in varying forms, as the psalmist looks beyond the Law to the Lord, whom he asks to teach, instruct, and revive him (e.g., Ps 119:12, 18, 25-26, 29, etc.). The condition of the psalmist is not essentially different from that of the believing Paul, who likewise delights in the Law of God, but finds a different Law at work in him that makes him a prisoner of sin. What the psalmist sought from the Lord (and undoubtedly in faith received) is found, Paul with joy announces, in the crucified and risen Christ (Rom 7:25). In Psalm 19, too, the psalmist, even after his exalted praise of the Law confesses that a saving work of God beyond the Law is necessary in his heart: “Who can discern (their) errors? Make me innocent of hidden sins. . . . Then I shall be blameless and innocent of great transgression” (Ps 19:11-13). Admittedly, Psalm 1 lacks this element of confession. But the shadow of the cross lies across this psalm: who among us can claim to be that person here and now? As the psalm itself suggests in its promise that “his leaf does not wither,” the path of the righteous one whom it describes leads through testing and trial on its way to the “season” of fruit (Psalm 1:1-6).

    The sins of which we are aware, dangerous though they may be, are not the most dangerous ones. These hidden faults are more deeply rooted in our person and being than we can imagine, and finally consist in the desire to do away with God and to possess that which properly belongs to our neighbor.

    Admittedly, this perspective robs “progress” of its ultimacy. The goal and end of the Christian life is given to us already at its beginning in Jesus Christ. But this displacing of “progress” from its place of primacy prevents us from taking upon ourselves burdens that we were never meant to bear. What those need who do not feel themselves to be sinners is the careful, gentle, yet direct exposure of their sins—not merely the faults of our society or problems in our culture but the root sins of self seeking, pride, lust, envy, greed by which we deny God and mistreat one another


  2. Capitalism has not turned us into victims? Tell that to those whose jobs were offshored and cannot find new jobs that provide a living wage. Or tell that to those who, though never lost their jobs but could never find jobs that provide a living wage and thus live on government assistance which also means that businesses are using government assistance to subsidize their payrolls while trying to pay as little in taxes as possible. Or tell that to those who know that, because of Capitalism, they are regarded as disposable objects of profit and, by extension, so are their families and communities. There are victims of Capitalism and that is just in our country, that doesn’t include victims outside of our nation.

    Martin Luther King said the following about American society in his day, and it seems not to have changed (see ):

    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

    What King was pointing to about our societal values that are driven by our economic system is that being thing-oriented can cause others to victimize me while it can cause me to victimize others. The reason I can see for that is that when we are thing-oriented, we compete for those things in groups and from that emerges tribalism. From that tribalism we get racism and war both of which makes many victims. In the meantime, the Church has a sordid history of supporting those with wealth and power.


  3. Curt Day once again has a train wreck view and mischaracterization of capitalism. Those “societal values” he speaks so awful of in capitalistic systems also build hospitals, employ millions, provide good health care (stand in line in Cuba or Canada) etc. etc. Not at all perfect, but capitalism is still way better than the secret sauce flaming fundamentalist system that Mr. Day would purpose. Save it for the next Michael Moore red carpet, glitzy, limousine driven, fly in to see it on your private jets, consumer driven pretentious premiere!

    Please! Doesn’t even pass the giggle test let alone the credibility test. Just say no to Flamers.


  4. E. Burns – exactly. Curt can’t reconcile the terrible living conditions of North Korea, China, and Cuba with the promised dream of a Socialist state. Even the EU – that paragon of 21st Century democratic socialism – is not faring as well (double unemployment rate) as the evil, capitalist US.


  5. Flamers?- I don’t think that has anything to do with the argument he is making. Keynes was a flamer too. The theonomists made a big deal out of that.


  6. It was Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba, not Cleopatra. I think it was Mark Anthony and Cleopatra- my bad after a google search.


  7. Sorry, E. Burns- it’s a knee jerk defensive posture I’ve acquired over the years. James Baldwin is gay so it was an easy misinterpretation.

    Just for the record- I am not gay. I’ve got enough problems in my life and I don’t need anyone questioning that issue in my life on top of it all.


  8. E. Burns, “not at all perfect.” Well, that’s where the Left (and Methodists) abandon you. Yet, if we only tried Socialism — perfectly, of course — it would have ushered in the millennium.


  9. Not every thing a capitalist does is capitalism. A capitalist may eschew belts for suspenders. Such a fashion faux pas is not the result of capitalism. Free trade, fair trade, protectionism, and some hodgepodge of all three is compatible with state owned economies and capitalist. Curt paints with an awfully broad brush.


  10. Dear Flaming Fundamentalist, Dear diary,

    Today I went to both Walmart to buy cheap sunglasses and frivolously also a shopping mall to buy a shirt. The pain and guilt I feel in my rank consumerism is immense to say the least. I did not thoroughly investigate the manufacture of the shirt or sunglasses to inquire as to whether they employ unfair labor practice, support UN report sanction 1 through 5,000,327 …..Or otherwise whether they agree with the political world view of Bono from U2. Come to think of it yesterday I went to the grocery store and I’m not sure about the management / owners of Chiquita bananas either , now that I think about it there’s a long list……..
    Oh who will save me from this economy of death, what to do indeed? WWKMD= What would Karl Marx do?

    Tongue meet cheek , you cheeky monkey you ! I’m just going to stick to the giggle test because that’s all this is worth.


  11. DGH says, “Or, it could be that people actually have agency and make calculations all the time — based on reality, like, even though I really want the BMW I don’t think I can afford those car payments. Or, as much as I’d like to wear Joseph Abboud suits all the time, that might not be the right look on campus (and may be a tad more expensive than piecing together items from Jos. A. Bank and L. L. Bean).

    I do understand that consumerism creates certain desires. But we are not 16-year olds with dad’s credit card. Some people make better decisions than others. Capitalism and big business have not turned us into victims. Even fans of Bojangles sometimes crave a meal at Waffle House.

    John Y: There is a lot there that could be debated. I don’t really have time to get into much depth but I do have a Proto-Protestant quote on hand that may further the discussion:

    “A minimalist government is nice when it comes to personal liberties, in other contexts we might want government. It largely will depend on our context. The problem is so many Christians make it a Theological issue and try to argue the New Testament teaches a specific form of political structure and economic policy. It does not. Once that is acknowledged there can be a discussion. But for the architects of Christendom new or old, they must have a goal, a vision, and to give it teeth it must be termed Biblical. That way, when someone disagrees, it’s not just a friendly disagreement within the realm of Christian Liberty. No, suddenly it’s heresy.

    And again I will point out that the Christians who have embraced a minimalist view of government seem to mean that only in terms of economics. There are reasons for this, but largely they want government to be quiet heavy handed when it comes to regulating behaviour. They want the government and lots of it when it comes to passing laws (and enforcing them) related to conduct.

    Well, throughout most of Church History Sacralists have had their way. It used to be Monarchy, now it’s something else…Parliamentarianism and Socialism if you’re European, Republicanism and Capitalism if you’re American.

    None of it has ever worked and never will. Christendom has suffered many blows…”

    John Y: The main point I would make is that yeah,some people make better decisions than others – on the other hand, some people are better at hiding and suppressing their sins than others too. Have fallen human beings ever been able to regulate and punish conduct in a way that does not eventually lead to gross injustices in a society? I don’t think so.


  12. As the writer of Psalm 119 stated , it is the hidden sins that drive human behavior that do the most damage in a society. And those sins that drive us all can often be disguised in ways that we do not consider them to be sins at all. In fact, we devise whole theologies, political philosophies and economic philosophies around those sins.


  13. Some of those cosmic forces might even come from God:

    2 Thes. 2: 11-12: 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


  14. There is a phrase in Ephesians 4:14, which can be translated as “systematizing of the deception”. If there is any “progress” in humanity in general, it’s the fortification of various systems against the truth


  15. Why bother with Proto’s legal advice on politics or foreign policy when he’s still pushing the Gaffin/ Murray interpretation of Romans 2 and Matthew 5:20? Why talk about an alien perfect imputed righteousness when you can talk about a less minimalist (full false) gospel in what what we do now also counts for something?

    Proto/ not protestant–Even as Paul is establishing guilt in Romans 2, he suggests in verses 6-11 that saving faith is tied to patient continuance in well doing and good works. Amazingly the language suggests this is a future reward. While he doesn’t deny a present reality (an earnest), the language and framing points to a future reckoning (according to their deeds) when glory, honor, immortality and eternal life are realized.

    Proto/ not protestant–Matthew 5 speaks of a required righteousness which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Now that verse could quickly be marshalled into the ‘alien’ righteousness of Christ argument, which we do not wish to deny for a moment. Yet, the context is that of Kingdom ethics and Kingdom life.


  16. Why bother with Proto’s politics when his understanding of the Gospel and saving faith are wrong (he does not think his understanding is wrong)? – because I agree with a lot of his politics and not his understanding of the Gospel and saving faith.

    I enjoy reading Proto because he writes clearly and he is trying to answer the same types of questions that I am interested in. He has read widely too. I probably would have liked him better when he described himself as a lost soul, drinking beer and shooting pool somewhere near Westminster West on the outskirts of San Diego (I’m already hearing the accusations of antinomian). He also spent lots of time in dialog about the doctrine of justification by faith alone with a close friend of his who was a theonomist when he was living in Greenville, S.C. and going to the PCA church that Phillips (I can’t remember his first name) pastors at now. So, we seem to have a lot in common.

    He is against any kind of systematizing of biblical doctrine because he thinks historical theology in its historical setting makes systematizing biblical truths practically impossible. He also thinks all systems of theology have “problematic” biblical texts that destroy any system of theology that ever has been devised by the mind of man. He is against bringing logic into the realm of interpreting texts of Scripture and thinks those who read the Scriptures need to submit to the text and not interpret the text according to their devised systems.

    He also is against the method of Law/Gospel interpretation of the Scriptural texts. He does not think it necessary to reconcile the indicatives and the imperatives. I did not read all of that 6 part post he wrote about “Hypersolafideism.” I did read the comment he made about your post, i.e., he has no sympathy for supralapsarianism- I’m not sure how he assumed that from what you said in that particular comment. Have you ever had any other dialog with Proto regarding the Gospel?

    Proto has also bought into the free offer of the gospel idea or the atonement is sufficient for all but effective only for the elect by faith. He has an affinity towards Reformed theology but would never join a Reformed church because he has severe issues with a confessional approach to the Scriptures. It is just another system devised by the rational mind of man. He seems to be always learning but never arriving at the knowledge and understanding of the biblical Gospel. He would call the Gospel I believe in a form of what he thinks is a systematized way of interpreting biblical texts. You could go round and round on a wild goose chase with Proto in regards to what is the Gospel, what is saving faith and what are good works. There has to be some kind of order to the Gospel or our minds would never be able to arrive at the knowledge of the Gospel- Proto disagrees about that. Saving faith has to be something more than belief and assent to biblical propositions according to Proto.


  17. Maybe a better way to say it- willing victims of theonomy. Are you willing when God sends a strong delusion your way? Is it possible to resist that strong delusion? I guess if one believes in agency it is possible. But then isn’t it a contradiction to say that grace cannot be resisted?


  18. D.G.,
    There are two kinds of changes needed today: structural changes and value changes. What I mentioned from the second must come from the different contributors to culture while noting that that structures that encourage being thing-oriented must be questioned and possibly revised. Structural changes are put into place by government but here to assume an all negative view of government is rather ignorant. Those who believe that the best government is the government that governs the least deny the possibility that government can adequately represent the people as a whole. For what they are saying is that we should elect a government we can ignore until the next election. That is not to say that government is always right or should be given too much power, it is just to say that government can make positive contributions to society.


  19. Dear Flaming Fundamentalist, (your own self proclaimed nickname)

    Being a victim is a growth industry in the world today and you must have purchased shares of it in the initial public offering as you most definitely wear it like you own it.

    One who strikes the pose of humility is far from it. You strike that post an awful lot around here.


  20. “Those who believe that the best government is the government that governs the least deny the possibility that government can adequately represent the people as a whole.” No, they deny the warrant for assigning government much large-scale power or representation. Substantial difference.


  21. “Capitalism has not turned us into victims?”

    Good grief. LIFE turns everyone into victims. But I’d much rather be a victim here than in Cuba. In what economic system does bad crap not happen in spades to tons of people?

    The liberal impulse is always to try to fix things for someone else. The conservative impulse is to simply take care of things at hand. Maybe conservatives should all go be missionaries, and liberals should all go be monks (both occupations now dying), but either way, Christians arguing about politics seems like posturing. Give your money to whomever you want. Allow others to do the same. If you are very impassioned, encourage others to enlist with
    The Clinton Foundation, UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, BLM, or Catholic Charities. But tell your co-workers the end game is still to flee from the wrath come.


  22. E. Burns,
    Yes, I call myself that. But your mocking took place in what you wrote afterwards. And again, mocking others, whether you do it or I do it, is more a result of self-righteousness than being a contributor to wisdom.

    And it is odd that Reformed Christians would be so resistant to the idea that many people in the world are victims when such Christians believe in man’s total depravity.


  23. Joe,
    No, they deny that government can represent the people because representing the people means following their dictates whether those dictates give more power to the government or less power to it.


  24. Joe,
    I would rather live in the US than live in Saudi Arabia where the US backs a dictatorship. And it is preferable to live in the US than in Yemen or Bahrain where the US supports Saudi Arabia in its attacks on civilians. That is not too different from the past when living in the US was preferable to living in iraq in the 1980s when the US supported the Sadam Hussein regime. Or living in the US was preferable to living in Latin America during the 1980s when the US supported terrorists who attacked soft targets in Nicaragua or in El Salvador where US trained military and paramilitary forces tortured and killed many people including priests.

    BTW, you can bring up Cuba all you want. I have no high regard for Castro. But perhaps the nations that are closest to Marxism in the world are those like Germany and Denmark that have laws that require the practice of codetermination.


  25. Dear Flaming Fundamentalist,

    No one is denying victims exist in the world. They are disagreeing with your messed up world view of flaming fundamentalist socialism. Proof yet again that you take disagreement with you as an attack against the victims of the world. You are boring. Come up with a new drum to beat.


  26. D.G.,
    Why would you ask that question? It seems like you are trying to be like the kid in the movie who sees dead people, only you see implications that aren’t there. And my observation is that theologians really struggle with understanding the mathematical definitions of logical connectors. That is because they are more concerned with persuasion than proof.

    The point I am making about the US is that people don’t object to life in the US as much as they object to US foreign policies that make some countries totally undesirable. A further illustration of my point can be seen in the portrayal of the Capital and the Districts seen in The Hunger Games movie series.


  27. D.G.,
    You are proving that you don’t know what the mathematical definition of an implication is. for unqualified assertions lead to questions, not implications. You need to qualify the difference between what a statement suggests from what a statement implies.


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