Self-justification and sin

John Gee quotes an author who describes ideologies as necessary for empires to justify their hegemony to themselves.

This isn’t limited to conquerors or dictators.

We all spend an enormous amount of emotional and cognitive energy constructing such rationalizations and justifications to ourselves.

This is why repentance is so liberating when it is done–we can discard the burden of so much work. There’s a folk etymology (that’s a nice way of saying “false claim that lots of people believe that doesn’t stand up to scholarly scrutiny”) for repent coming from the French repentir (which is true) linked to re-penser (to “think again”) which is false. (It’s actually from the Latin, an intensive prefix on the verb penitire, to regret).

But, there’s wisdom in the folkways, sometimes. To repent is to rethink things–or, to be able to stop thinking or insisting upon all our intellectual justifications for ourselves and our shoddy behavior. The truth makes us free (even the truth of our own sin) precisely because it is far easier to live with truth than to prop up the lies and comforting fictions that threaten to tumble down around our ears.

This is why suggesting someone should repent is generally greeted with anger–you’re threatening a lot of work. And an ideology.

And, it’s also why the same type of irrational anger is directed at those that might even tangentially threaten an ideology, even if it doesn’t seem to impact the individual at all–for, that ideology is a protection, shielding us from confronting our sin and inadequacy. And, when one really comes face to face with that and ceases to make excuses, behavior must change, or we must (in a sense) go mad.

CS Lewis has a character who illustrates the dilemma:

He wanted to be perfectly safe and yet also very nonchalant and daring –to be admired for manly honesty among the Dimbles and yet also for realism and knowingness at Belbury–to have two more large whiskies and also to think everything out very clearly and collectedly. And it was beginning to rain and his head had begun to ache again. Damn the whole thing. Damn, damn! Why had he such a rotten heredity? Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational? Why was his luck so bad?

That Hideous Strength, 221

Note that the speaker wants to be accepted in two worlds–the (“good guys”) Dimbles, and Lewis’ academic stand-in for cynicism, relativism, and worldliness, Belbury. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, to serve God without offending the Devil.

And, because he can’t (no one can), he blames everything or anything–heredity, society, his education, even luck or the Fates.

The one person he cannot bring himself to blame is himself–because then, the only option would be repentance, regardless of what role the other factors played.