The Fall of Man
The Christian white male today finds himself viewed by many as a natural target. It may happen within his own circles; more widely he is used routinely as an object of criticism in the dominant culture in education, politics and the mass media. Why is this so? How is the Christian white male called to live in this context? Where does this prevailing mood of accusation prompt him to reflect - being called, perhaps, to new-found repentance? Where is he the victim of false accusations - being called, perhaps, to discover more about suffering faithfully with the One who was uniquely a target and victim for us all?
A NATURAL TARGET
To be a male is to find oneself treated today as under suspicion as a sexual predator, not to be trusted alone with a woman or child. To be a white male (although not yet dead) is also to find oneself held guilty through association with forebears accused of having dominated the world and of having been oppressive especially of women and of non-European peoples. To be a Christian is to find oneself condemned for claiming to know the truth, for this claim is seen as oppressing those who do not share one's own views. The Christian white male is apparently not safe, not to be trusted - a bull in the china shop of modern enlightened, caring, progressive society.
WHAT'S GOING ON?
Our generation displays a widespread keen sensitivity towards 'victims'. Importantly, this sensitivity has roots in Christian faith. Jesus expressed God's love for victims as he healed and forgave them, fulfilling prophecies as he did so about the coming Messiah. Christians will want to celebrate much which has been done to deliver people from victimisation in our age, and will want to do much more.
But something else is going on too. Sometimes when individuals or groups get seen as victims today, they are seen almost as sacred. Those who identify with them achieve correctness or purity. This is used to advantage by victims pursuing litigation and by minority groups pursuing what Os Guinness calls a 'more victimised than thou' agenda.
How are victims identified today? The tendency on the one hand is to be indiscriminate and over-quick in identifying victims; it seems anyone can make a claim. On the other hand victims often come pre-packaged, in stereotypes; this leaves many other victims invisible. Always it is the victims of other people we see most readily; our own victims tend to remain invisible.
RESPONSES TO VICTIMHOOD
One way of responding to victims is to be dismissive. Dismissiveness often plays a part in creating victims in the first place; shown in response to victims, it re-victimises them. There is vocal denunciation of this attitude in our culture today. However, an alternative response to victimhood is equally bad: we may be overwhelmed emotionally by the violation and grief of victimhood. This can weave a spell over us which presents the personal identity and worth of the victim as denied in a final way. We are now captured by self-pity and sentimentality - or overcome with rage. Outrage at the suffering of victims has led to many an extreme act of violence. Central today to the philosophy inspiring Al Qua'eda is the perceived victimhood of Muslims at the hands of Christians and Jews. Ironically, of course, acts of outrage on behalf of victims tend to create new sets of victims.
There is widespread vulnerability, in Western culture today, to being overwhelmed emotionally by victimhood. It is part of the heightened sensitivity towards victims. It gets worse, the more individuals find themselves solitary, uprooted from participation of community, and focussed upon themselves - the 'sacred' narcissistic self, declared the bearer of absolute rights which lack any trustworthy guarantor, credulous but deceived by promises of intimacy and personal fulfilment. Cultural critics writing with insight on these matters include Christopher Lasch, David Riesman, Stjepan Mestrovic and Richard Sennett.
JESUS THE VICTIM
The victimhood suffered by God's righteous people is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament. The voice of the Psalmist is not uncommonly that of a victim; the entire Book of Job is the eloquent testimony of a victim of Satan and of the 'friends' who would re-victimise him; in the Suffering Servant figure of Isaiah 52.13-53.13, the righteous victim stands at the centre of God's saving providence. In Jesus Christ this pattern comes to fulfilment. His crucifixion represents an outrage deeper and darker than any victimhood yet seen: the saviour of victims is victimised, the One who is the ultimate ground of hope for us all is sent by us to his death. The worst has come to pass. Jesus the victim trusted in what seemed impossible: that God could bring victory out of the unqualified defeat of God's purposes.
Jesus, in other words, confronts us from the heart of victimhood. Let us therefore be wary of a Christian spirituality which passes over this, serving Jesus only as a divine master of spiritual martial arts. We serve him rather when we recognise and serve victims (Matthew 25.31-46), including any who have been our own victims whether as Christian, white, male - or whatever.
DIGNITY IN VICTIMHOOD
If Jesus confronts us from the heart of victimhood, he also challenges the spell it weaves over us of self-pity and rage. These feelings are engaged in a new way by Jesus as he leads us more fully and freely into the grief of victimhood without losing trust. He liberates us to embrace the grief of injustice and victimhood, knowing ourselves upheld and dignified with the power to confer, like him, the gift of unqualified forgiveness. New Testament Christians had to face this issue (1 Peter 4.12f, 1Thessalonians 2.14f, Hebrews 12.3f, etc), and it is an issue for us when falsely accused today.
Jesus, in other words, actively embraced victimhood for us all. Let us therefore be wary of a Christian spirituality which treats Jesus merely as the dumb icon of victimhood. To light a candle for Jesus is far short of proclaiming him the light of the world, or serving him as such when we ourselves are victimised as Christian, white, male - or whatever.