Helping good people do bad things

The following passage is from  God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse by Slavoj Zizek and Boris Gunjevic.  In chapter 1 Zizek says;

The vast majority of people are spontaneously moral: torturing or killing another human being is deeply traumatic for them.  So, in order to make them do it, a larger ‘sacred’ Cause is needed, one which makes petty individual concerns about killing seem trivial.  Religion and ethnic belonging fit this role perfectly.  The majority of people need to be anesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to the other’s suffering.  For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without it we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute upon whom to off-load our ultimate responsibility…  Religious ideologists usually claim that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people do some good things.  From today’s experience, we should rather stick to Steve Weinberg’s claim that while without religion good people would continue doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.

Here, I think, Zizek speaks of that which has always perplexed me as an anabaptist Christian and follower of Jesus.  How is it that professing followers of Jesus – a man who taught and practiced non-violent, emancipatory, love expressed in egalitarian community – could come to embrace, in thought and action, that which is violent and oppressive in the name of that same Jesus?

Simply put, the Christian faith has been co-opted and pressed into the service of the nation-states ‘sacred’ Cause.  That which moves the American experiment forward is the true god of American Christianity, which allows the needs of America to trump all other concerns, even the “spontaneous morality” and “elementary sensitivity” to the suffering of the other.  Not only has it become tolerable for American Christians to support policies that cause the deaths of our own Christian brothers and sisters around the globe, many even celebrate it as good and godly.

That is something we should pay attention to:  Does our Christian faith in America help transform bad people into good people, or does it help good people do bad things?  We may never find out because if Zizek is right, the trauma of separating the God of Christianity from the American ‘sacred’ Cause would be too great.  We seem to be unable to face the truth that the American experience has not been, and still is not, an even one.


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