I have recently come across a term of derision. It seems to be one used by the more intellectual cultural warriors against those who are to receive scorn for their role in the undoing of our culture. (Scroll down to the April 23 post titled, “The Lumpenliesure [sic] Class.”) In order for the scorn to stick, it relies on a casting of the common man as he who “eats, drinks and is merry, for tomorrow he dies.” It seems that one man’s pilgrim minding his own business is another’s scapegoat for those who are “…bitter, resentful, and worthy of a fair measure of scorn.” After a bit of intellectual hocus pocus the common man is rendered one of the jerks in the ranks of the lumpenleisure class.
Because of the fact that it is a term that swaggers amongst the circles of the more studied theocrats it might be tempting to think there is something to the disdain. But if you don’t much care to lend your sympathy to religiously disguised and sanctioned contempt wielded by less tutored cranks, this brand of punditry is really no different.
Slurs are by definition repugnant. But one of the more troubling aspects of this one—aside from the more immediate way it hisses off the tongue—is the pretense of Christianity that attends it. Always on the make to find one set of cultural enemies or another, the occupants of the upper echelons in “Christian America” seem to want to use it to advance the notion that the world is just plain going to pot, and someone gotta be blamed. It feeds off of that potent combination of human fear and arrogance that not only are things quickly eroding in ways not seen before but that ours is the generation that just might witness the end of all things right, true and good. Never mind that kingdoms rise and fall all throughout history. The West directly descends from Christianity, thus its demise has eternal implications. Scary stuff. And according to the lumpensleisure doctrine it is squarely the fault of those who have the audacity to be found amongst the commoners.
This despite the fact that the witness of the New Testament. Everything from the parable of the Good Samaritan to the common men from diverse walks of life Jesus called disciples and to whom he handed the keys of the kingdom, there seems nothing at all suggested that those who would call themselves Christians should have any stake in maintaining class distinctions under the alibi of true religion. If there really is no more Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free what interest do any who claim Christian conviction have in drawing lines from such convictions to the propping up of worldly systems? If the theology of the Cross is about the ordinary over against the extraordinary then it would seem that truer Christian piety actually alights amongst the ordinary commoner, not amongst extraordinary fringes fabricating yet another enemy in culture war laboratories. The slob who slogs his way to and from the salt mines everyday, as it were, is less the antagonist and more the victor.
Despite how the lumpenleisure doctrine would have it, the gospel has no interest in locating culprits of cultural decay and demise. Simply stated, it seeks sinners. Lumpenleisure tempts us to not make a distinction between culprits and sinners. But lest we fall captive to that siren song it is good to remember a few things. Where culprits may be responsible to something specific, sinners are guilty of everything; where tracking down culprits necessarily sets up sliding scales of good guys and bad guys, those who charge sin only find lawbreakers; the quest for culprits seeks punishment and retribution, the pursuit of sinners seeks atonement and reconciliation; chasing culprits wags a finger in judgment, capturing sinners raises a hand in benediction. Yes, there is a difference between culprits and sinners. It is the same difference that distinguishes the tax collector who beats his chest before the Most High and the Pharisee who thanks God he is not like that particular culprit or distinguishes one of two parenthetical thieves. It is one of those differences that makes all the difference.