From an old parish newsletter:

I think the energy we put into nursing or generating a sense of grievance is usually energy wasted.  At least it is wasted in the sense that when we concentrate on our own aggrieved state, we then have that much less time and energy available to improve the real situation about which we are unhappy.  This is true for us as individuals.  It is often equally true for us as members of groups.  Since much of contemporary political and cultural discourse seems to consist of organized grievance-mongering, the world is full of wasted energy.

Consider, if you will, the idea of reparations for slavery.  The idea at first blush seems simply outlandish.  But so, to me at least, did many things that many people eventually seem to think are not so very absurd.  (Consider, if you will, the idea of smokers suing tobacco companies.)  On a second look the idea of reparations for slavery in America 150 and more years ago still seems wrong or immoral.  Group responsibility or punishment usually is wrong:  it should no more be said, God told us, that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2).  We are responsible for ourselves, not for others.  Not even for our fathers.

Besides being immoral, group responsibility is really impossible to assign in a consistent and thorough manner.  As I wrote in this space a few years back, if groups want to go back far enough, then every group has been horribly oppressed at some point.  Many of the Scots who held slaves in Georgia were driven from the Highlands of Scotland by the English; the English were oppressed by the Germanic Normans; the Germanic peoples were harried by the Huns; and so and on.  The British oppressed the Irish; the patron saint of Ireland was a Briton kidnapped by Irish slave traders.  The logic of grievance-mongering leads to the conclusion that everybody is a victim.  But if everybody is a victim, then the category of victim is irrelevant.  If I.G. Farben profited from the slave labor of a person at Auschwitz, then it is reasonable that I.G. Farben should pay him reparations.  If the U.S. government unconstitutionally imprisoned Japanese citizens in 1942, then compensation is at least arguably fair.  But beyond such direct, personal injuries and reparations, we cannot move without raising impossible problems.

My present point, however, is that such nursing of grievances is a waste of energy that should be concentrated elsewhere.  The fact is that more people are enslaved at this moment in history than at any other time in history. Millions of black Africans are enslaved or virtually enslaved in the Sudan, Mauritania, and other Muslim lands.  Millions of children and very low caste people are enslaved or virtually enslaved in India.  Slavery is a common, real world problem.  The attempt to generate outrage concerning relatively remote, historical wrongs diverts attention from pressing, real, present wrongs.  In fact, the idea of reparations for slavery in the American past contributes to the illusion that the problem is in the past.  It is not.

Apologizing for remote evils is a way of deflecting real moral effort closer to home.  It’s rather like the wave of politicians ‘taking full responsibility’ for this or that.  In Japan when an executive takes full responsibility he is liable to commit suicide.  In our country taking full responsibility seems to mean taking no responsibility at all but simply saying that we are taking responsibility.

Slavery in this country did great harm, and the effects of that harm live on.  That we ended slavery by our bloodiest war, prosecuted often by unconstitutional and immoral means, also did great harm, some of the effects of which live on.  The evils of slavery, the evils of the war that ended slavery, and the evils of Reconstruction, fed and feed on each other to poison our history. Every historical circumstance and situation in our fallen world brings evil, as well as opportunities for moral striving, patience, fidelity to God, bravery, and other good things.  We can only navigate the ambiguous waters of our history by observing the law of forgiveness.

It is wrong to worry.  Worry is borrowing the possible evil of tomorrow to help spoil the reality of today.  But it also is wrong to worry retroactively, to nurse historical grudges, to keep past wounds fresh.  That is borrowing the certain evil of yesterday to help spoil today.  As always, our Lord judged the matter correctly:  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s