I Can Blame Capitalism!

Romans 7:15-25 – The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, July 6, 2014

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19)

800px-Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_ProjectThere are few verses in the Bible more vulnerable than Paul’s confession in Romans 7:19:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

Poor Paul!

Blunt Paul!

Honest Paul!

The crass side of modern me wanted Paul to spill detailed dirt about the evil that he did.

Did Paul click a first-century mouse once too often for some easy-access pornography? Was he leering at little boys? Would he be referring to lustful thoughts—even lustful actions—related to his neighbor’s wife? Can we read a tad more about how much of his tent-maker’s paycheck was lost to the horses or poker? When he broke bread with Jesus’ followers, what happened to the leftover wine? The guy had harsh words about certain people in other letters to other communities; what if his criticism and sarcasm in person made his writing feel tame? Did Paul gossip? Did he “lighten” the offering plates? What was his drug of choice? Was he gay or a gay-basher? Was he disabled or belittle those that were? Did he stutter or . . .

Hypocritical Paul?

Disturbing Paul?

Truthful Paul?

A scene from “L.A. Confidential”

Recently I again watched Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film noir, L.A. Confidential. In the movie, Danny DeVito’s Sid Hudgens snapped pictures of the famous or near famous in compromising positions. Hudgens then typed a column for his sleazy rag (Hush-Hush) and gleefully published the pictures. He wanted his readers to know this “dirt” was all, “Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.”

Do we really want more of the Apostle Paul’s hush-hush secrets?


Well, no.


I can be cute and speculate about Paul’s “modern” faults, but in spite of the sordid side of the Internet, the temptations from Vegas (a convenient flight from the majority of airports in the United States) to your local Native American casino, the availability of booze and drugs and guns, Paul’s ancient struggles were as real as ours.

Evil was and is always easy-access.

I don’t need to know any dirt on Paul.

I know the dirt on me.

I know my worst actions and pathetic thoughts. I know the demeaning words I’ve barely contained behind sealed lips. I refuse to explain my evil by blaming satan or God having a day off. The evil I do is the evil I do. There’s a fancy theological term for grappling with the meaning of evil within the human and Holy relationship: theodicy. Look it up on your own. Read or write a brilliant book about evil’s history and consequences. Believers with hearts of gold and hearts of rust have sought to explain why our human goodness is stretched thin and breaks around the thorn of evil. It has been, and will continue to be, convenient to blame Satan. (And please note, this time my spell-checker didn’t chasten me about satan. How fascinating that the dark lord of our Judeo-Christian tradition is properly a proper noun, a capitalized name). In the realm of understanding evil, and never understanding evil, I only truly worry about one capitalization . . .

It’s at the front of my name.

I am thankful for Paul’s confession. For me, whether grimly listing modern or ancient temptations, I stand with Paul. The struggle is real. It is daily. My strong faith is always hand-in-hand with my weak faith.

Seven-sinsIn a May 2014 conversation sponsored by Tennessee’s Centre College, writer and farmer Wendell Berry described the modern economy of the United States with, “We have an economy founded foursquare on the Seven Deadly Sins. Just go down the list.” (For those who need a refresher of the traditional top seven: wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Or you can ponder Gandhi’s seven . . .)

Ah! I can blame capitalism! While I agree with Berry’s (and Gandhi’s) views, aiming a finger at the worst aspects of our economy also doesn’t get me off the hook.

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

I am also thankful—and humbled by—the contemporary secular responses to human stumbling like AA, Al-Anon, Gamblers Anonymous and other confidential support groups. Thank God for them. Thank also those flawed, dedicated humans that imagined the need and worked to create those life-changing resources. I’m grateful for counselors and therapists and mentors and guides and self-help books (well, some of them) because . . .

Evil was and is always easy-access.

Paul, never one for the worst hush-hush details, gave a gift of humbly revealing his own struggles. Later, of course, we made him a saint.

But never forget he was just Paul. And he struggled.

Like me. Like you.

(Images: Painting of Paul writing from here; Film still from here; Gandhi quote from here.)

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