Friday, December 27, 2013

"Sin" As HPtStU

Window, in Ann Arbor
Sin, writes Francis Spufford, is the Human Propensity to Screw things Up (HPtStU; except that Spufford uses another word for 'screw'). 

"For us, it refers to something much more like the human tendency, the human propensity, to [screw] up. Or let’s add one more word: the human propensity to [screw] things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff ” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch. Now, I hope, we’re on common ground. In the end, almost everyone recognizes this as one of the truths about themselves."
- Spufford. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, Kindle Locations 408-413)

When Jesus-followers talk about "sin," it's this sort of thing that we mean. It's a universal human condition, "unless you're someone with a very high threshold of obliviousness."

Here's an example of "sin," from today's nytimes:

"Bangui's [Central African Republic] public prosecutor, Ghislain Gresenguet, said authorities on Wednesday discovered some 30 bodies clustered near the Roux military camp by a hill on the edge of Bangui. The corpses were scattered over a 200-metre (yard) area.
"Some of the bodies were tied up. Others had big gashes and wounds which showed that they had been tortured," Gresenguet told Radio France International. "They were likely killed somewhere else and dumped there.""
Examples of sin abound every day. You don't have to look far to read about them, or see and experience them for yourself. To find an exemplification of sin, you need look no further than your own self. Spufford writes:

"For most of us the point eventually arrives when, at least for an hour or a day or a season, we find we have to take notice of our HPt*StU (as I think I’d better call it). Our appointment with realization often comes at one of the classic moments of adult failure: when a marriage ends, when a career stalls or crumbles, when a relationship fades away with a child seen only on Saturdays, when the supposedly recreational coke habit turns out to be exercising veto powers over every other hope and dream. It need not be dramatic, though. It can equally well just be the drifting into place of one more pleasant, indistinguishable little atom of wasted time, one more morning like all the others, which quietly discloses you to yourself." (Kindle Locations 415-420)

The Christian idea of "sin" is that it is a universal human condition. "Sin" is just the particuar word that refers to this condition. Literally, in Greek, to sin is to "miss the mark." The idea of sin is that humanity is off target, spot off. The condition is there; you can refer to it by whatever word you want.

"You can put it as Freud did, and say that there are unconscious processes which resist and subvert conscious intentions. You can think of it in terms of evolutionary biology, in which case one of the best expressions of it is the geneticist Bill Hamilton’s wonderful description of the human animal as “an ambassador sent forth by an unstable coalition.” Or you can quote St Paul: “What I would not, that I do. What I would, that I do not.” Wherever the line is drawn between good and evil, between acceptable and unacceptable, between kind and cruel, between clean and dirty, we’re always going to be voting on both sides of it, despite ourselves. Not all of us, on every subject, all the time, of course; but all of us on some subject or other some of the time. 

And this is a state of affairs in the face of which we are, for the most part, currently clueless, toolless, committed to alarmed denial rather than to any more useful or hopeful response."
- Ib., Kindle Locations 472-479

This means me. And you. 

HPtStU is in here, not somewhere out there.