It has been discouraging to hear the news today via BBC channels that the worst of western society has been cultivating an ugly but alluring financial temptation in one eastern society. Westerners have been paying to watch children in places like Cebu City, Philippines, being sexually abused via webcam, and certain poverty-stricken Filipinos have taken the bait. It seems to me that wherever accountability structures are light or absent, and many online environments fall into that category, something sinister in human nature seems to flourish like a cancer or a superbug.
I think of superbugs because in my previous occupation as a Baptist pastor of a small country congregation, I knew a lady in our congregation who had a superbug resident in her respiratory membranes. It was kept under control through drugs; but it could never be eliminated. It remained imprisoned, as it were, but was ever capable of doing drastic damage if left unsupervised.
There is something like that resident in human nature. Christian theologians have long talked about what some in modern times have called the ‘sin nature’. I’m not always happy with how it is described, as if the newborn baby and Hitler at his legendary worst are pretty well on the same level of evil. That is not how the world that I have witnessed works. But I don’t see myself as a rosy optimist concerning human nature, and this reported evil does not surprise me. Whether it be the common person or the high-profile politician, there is a tendency in human nature to indulge baser instincts to the extent that societal pressures permit. ‘Power corrupts’ precisely because power removes the usual mechanisms of visibility and responsibility.
I am also suspicious that we are better at identifying the besetting sins of other societies than of our own. Jesus was on to this, was he not, when he said, counter-intuitively, not to judge others in Matthew 7:1-5. He in theory still allows the appropriateness of judging in verse 5, but points out our ability to see the ‘speck’ in another’s eye while ignoring the log in our own (verse 4). A French version we have in our home describes the speck aptly – “le brin de paille,” which translates as a ‘bit of straw’. Racism essentially is this further weakness indulged: we are not only prone to sin, but we’re prone to see the sin of others and not our own. Racism then attributes sin, or certain sins and faults, to other societies as if inherent to and limited to those societies. It is simplistic and self-satisfying. And Jesus would say, it’s a deception. No-one’s eye is clear, though the size and nature of the intrusive objects might be different for different eyeballs.
Instead of judging, then, there’s forgiving, another counter-intuitive practice for human beings. Back a little in Matthew 6:12, the Lord’s prayer includes asking the Father to “forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us” (Good News Translation, bilingual English/French edition). I had never noticed it before, but the most famous piece of Christian Scripture there is, the Lord’s Prayer, here acknowledges the universality of human sin, but rules out judging attitudes as the solution. It’s really because of the universality of the sin superbug that judging isn’t the answer. In fact, every one of us is forced to pray, “deliver us from (the) Evil (One).