Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Social Sin and Solidarity with the Poor

In one of my book clubs, we are reading the Franciscan Friar Joseph Nangle's book Engaged Spirituality. This is an online book club and we are posting our thoughts via commentary on a Facebook group page set up for the purpose. In chapter four of this book, Nangle talks about the idea of social sin and how our current global capitalist system has perpetuated an environment in which poverty and inequality are perpetuated in the developing world and from which we in the developed world are the main beneficiaries. Nangle views our global political economy in its perpetuation of poverty and inequality as the manifestation of what he calls social sin. In our online discussion, we've debated our obligations towards solidarity with the poor in the context of our privilege as beneficiaries of this unfair system. I've taken issue with some of the discussion that has, I think, misinterpreted the gospel message of solidarity with the poor as necessitating some kind of revisiting of our privilege as problematic. Here are some of my comments on this issue:

I think we should strive to live like and with the poor. And that's part of Nangle's point in how we should respond to social sin -- we shouldn't seek to ignore it nor to try to justify it. But I do think that Nangle was clear (and I agree with him) that we should respond to social sin (as to all kinds of sin) by acknowledging it and working towards rectifying it without driving ourselves to the point of an unhealthy guilt over it. I think Nangle would be opposed to an unhealthy self-flagellation for our sins, including our complicity in social sin. It's an oppression of guilt that, in itself, can be sinful, too, I believe. We can acknowledge that the comforts of a hot shower, air conditioning in summer, and an occasional indulgence in ice cream for dessert form part of a system that distances us from the reality of the poor and perhaps even perpetuates that system -- and in so acknowledging this fact, try to readjust our lives accordingly. In keepting with Nangle's earlier chapter, that is our solidarity call within the incarnation of Christ as fully human. But there is nothing inherently evil in a better, more comfortable life. In fact, my hope is to work on restructuring the inequities of our system (i.e. rectifying the social sin) such that our brothers and sisters across the world can share in these comforts, too. In other words, sometimes I think our solidarity direction can be backwards oriented in the sense that we think we need to be more deprived and suffering like the poor, rather than trying to have the poor be less deprived and less suffering like we are. Two sides to the solidarity coin.

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