I find that increasingly in church sermons, books and blogs (including my own) there is a growing voice compelling us to change more than the attitudes of our hearts. We need, we are told, to change our behaviour too.
There is truth in such statements, of course. If nobody ever changed their behaviour, we would be stuck traveling in the same direction both individually and as a collective society. If we do not try to be better people by doing better things, then nothing will ever get any better.
However, everything we do only makes everything worse. We cannot hope to change the way things are. The whole system is set up against us.
We partake in democratic elections [well, those of us ‘fortunate enough’ to live in democracies do] in which we choose the direction of our country. We feel good because we have had our say, and the party we chose to support goes on to implement broadly what we had hoped.
But that never happens does it? Or at least rarely. When it does not, we become disillusioned, and choose to withhold our vote as a matter of protest. The irony of this is that such an act proves to be cathartic in and of itself and we find ourselves choosing willingly to disengage with the political system. The system can then ignore us and do as it wishes, without our consent.
We buy fair trade products in order to help the poorest in the world. Yet in doing so we endorse the cause of the unfairness itself – capitalism. We have been told by this system that we must endorse capitalism in order to help these people, whether we realise that or not.
It’s there in our faith too (of course I can only speak for Christianity on this one). It seems to me that we endorse systems whereby we can choose to feel guilty, absolve ourselves and then continue to sin – going directly against the words of St Paul (‘shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? by no means!’).
Not only do we allow this system but we actively endorse it and partake in it with our theology. We are bound into this way of thinking by centuries of people wanting it to be that way, and I’m not sure it is. Jesus seems to provide very few concrete answers on anything, preferring to question. When it comes to guilt and sin, Jesus seems to be all over the place, impossible to track down, and yet paradoxically all encompassing.
Jesus wanted an end to the kind of theology that led to ‘in’ and ‘out’. Yet here we are, with a system that keeps us all in line as ‘in’ or ‘out’. We sin, absolve ourselves of our sin via a cathartic experience (mass, charismatic worship, confession…) and then go on to expect and know that the same pattern awaits us. What if we really, truly, honestly, wanted to break out of that pattern? What do we do? How do we do it?
The only truly successful and enduring revolution I can think of is that of capitalism. Capitalism crept in under Feudalism’s nose and stole its thunder, bringing with it a way of doing life that the middle classes could once have only dreamed of. Yet it did not come about because of a revolution, a dramatic change, a system designed to bring it into place. Capitalism crept in.
There’s another revolution creeping in – one we are called to be a part of. Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven, others may call it Nirvana, or something else again. The Kingdom of Heaven spreads quietly, discreetly and organically. Unnoticed, unpublicised, unknown to many around it. And one day it will be the status quo.
So I lied. Not everything you do makes things worse. Some things make things better. But we do need to stop living within the structures we have been given trying to make a difference. We have to break out of them, to subvert them truly instead of choosing cooperation. Cooperation leads to Rome, and Rome leads to Religion, and Religion leads to Law, and the law, well, that brought death. Subversion is difficult to find, hard to master, has a narrow road, is not well travelled. But it will be worth it.