Sinlessness and Progressive Pietism

Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren has this to say on Twitter about the current state of the Trump White House:

I don’t particularly care about the Trump Administration — Trump himself is something an undisciplined slob who surrounds himself with bad people.

But Van Buren asks a really good question here: “But at what point is someone deemed virtuous enough by progressives?” It points to something at work in progressivism — both its religious and secular iterations — that do not bode well for the church or our society.

Progressivism, as I have written before, has a sin problem. And that sin problem stems, I think, from where progressives focus their understanding of redemption. For religious progressives, they focus upon Jesus’ acts in the Gospels (and God’s prophetic promises) of an expanded covenant and an expanded community. They focus on those excluded through no fault of their own — the sick, the lame, the blind, lepers, Samaritans (outsiders in general), eunuchs, and gentiles. People whose exclusion from the community is not something the controlled, but something imposed upon them, usually in the Torah. The unfortunate suffer through no sin or fault of their own, and the promise of the Kingdom of God is primarily for these formerly excluded or downtrodden folks.

The community of God’s people may have excluded them, and called them sinners, but Jesus ate and lived and preached and healed them. Called them and baptized them. Progressive inclusion is based on this understanding that people have been excluded because the church in teaching the law considered them sinners, but Jesus in fulfilling that law does not.

And I’m generally down with this.

But because progressive inclusion is based on what I might call Fanonist distinctions of oppressed and oppressor, included and excluded, first and last, it doesn’t so much forgive sin as it simply removes it. The outsider isn’t a sinner, the eunuch isn’t a sinner, and so there is no reasonable excuse for their exclusion.

But what to do with real sinners? It’s clear, I think, progressives have decided they cannot be forgiven. There is no redemption for real sinners — sin now becomes both an abstract state of being and an abstract artifact of unequal social power — since there is no way for sinners to repent, no way for sinners to do penance, no way for sinners to get right with the community, no way for the community to accept the penitent. The risks are too great, the distinction too important, to make forgiveness a real possibility. The progressive community, and the progressive church, cannot forgive sin. It is incapable of doing so.

There is simply shunning, exclusion, marginalization — the just desserts of lives poorly lived and power unfairly gained and wielded. A consigning to outer darkness that brokers no possibility of redemption because those excluded are not simply the unfortunate whom God loves, but the wretched damned. It is the humanitarian punishment imagined by C.S. Lewis, only without the humanitarianism.

As long as we are where we are politically — deeply divided and taking cues on what to be and NOT to be from the other side — this will only get worse. Progressives will only grow more pietistic in response to the Trump administration, and their demand for a sinless politics — and sinless politicians, ones who have never made mistakes or hurt others or have always had right views, those who have been sinless in the ways only liberal protestant clergy are considered sinless — will only grow stronger.

And this is why I worry far more about dictatorship from the progressive left than I do the right.

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