You have to smile, or weep, but certainly worry, when you hear people these days talking about slavery as America’s “original sin.” That’s because some of them, and probably most of them, have a different concept of sin from that of most Americans. The key aspect of this new kind of sin is that it can’t be forgiven. That is not, obviously, the Christian understanding. And because America is, still, at least in some sense, a Christian country, sin that can’t be forgiven is a foreign concept.
A normal American, giving a moment’s thought to the subject, might ask, what constitutes sin absent the Ten Commandments and the beatitudes? Actions can be illegal in a non-Christian society. But can they be sinful? What does “sinful” mean? Is everything that’s sinful illegal? Is everything that’s illegal a sin?
Slavery, wherever in the world it existed and exists, was and is certainly wrong, at least by today’s lights. That much we can all (probably) agree on (now)—though it’s tempting to pose the question: would the blacks brought to America (and their descendants) have been better off if they’d stayed in the countries of their birth? Even if they would not have been better off in their native lands, does that absolve the slave traffickers and owners?
Ask the question this way: If A (a white supremacist) shoots B (a black person) in the leg sending him sprawling . . . and out of the path of a drunken taxi driver, thereby saving his life, how venomous should B’s descendants (unborn at the time) be toward A? Or A’s descendants? B’s survival doesn’t nullify A’s sin, but it should temper his descendants’ ire.
A second question is, how collective can guilt be? If an assembly of 100 people or more decide by majority vote (pursuant to their rules) to do something wrong, what guilt attaches to the people who voted no? Or who were absent that day. Or who weren’t eligible to vote?
Or, if, say, delegates to a convention are frantic to form a more perfect union and the only way to do it is to accept, if only temporarily, slavery, is their acceptance of slavery wrong? And if so, was it wrong for only them, or also for their descendants, and if also for their descendants (who did away with slavery), and for how many generations?
That, obviously, is the question for our time, or at least for this moment, as the woke seek to punish all those insufficiently aware of and contrite about their accusers’ designation of their hereditary participation in America’s “original sin.”
The woke Left is an angry lot: their vengeance is as unrelenting as their righteousness. But they’re an odd lot, too: they perceive motes in everyone else’s eyes, but nary a beam in their own can they see. You are guilty; they, for some reason, are not; the reason being, perhaps, that they have found you wanting and so you can be punished for the sins of . . . the world, and their punishment of you allows them to live guilt-free.
That is not the Christian message.
But neither is it the Christian message that we are not guilty. We are all guilty, in one way or another, of manifold sins and wickedness. That is why the Christian says, every night, “Forgive us our trespasses . . . .”
The problem for the woke is that they have too narrow a concept of sin: it seems to be related only to slavery and blacks—and you. It is evidenced by the central slogan of wokeness, the slogan they would stamp on coins if they had their way: “Black Lives Matter.”
How small! How narrow a view of humanity and existence! How parochial!
And how dishonest! Slavery was a calamity, but in a way so were the badly written civil rights laws and the Great Society, which midwifed today’s 70 percent black illegitimacy rate and persistent black underachievement. And so has been the governance of the Democrats ever since 1965: nonstop killings, thousands of them, in inner cities; as well as this nonnegotiable policy of the Democrats: keep blacks uneducated by keeping them out of charter schools.
The non-woke need never feel inferior to woke leftists, whose “black lives matter” mantra is just so much cant, part claim of innocence, part accusation.
Even so, all people have an obligation to love their neighbors (whatever their sort and condition), and the failure to demonstrate that love—and not just by putting a sign on their lawns—is sin. We are all guilty, all of us, woke and non-woke alike of a myriad of sins, not just racism. Guilty and doomed.
Except that we are not doomed; we are not doomed if we ask for and accept the forgiveness offered to us by Him whose death and resurrection we remember, and celebrate, on Easter Sunday.