There’s a line in a song called The Resistance by Josh Garrels that haunts me. It comes at the end of the first verse. After poetically describing the power structures of this world that abuse the masses, Garrels asks, how do good men become a part of the regime? The question assumes these systems of captivity to be the handiwork of good people, good Christians even. Ethical businessmen. Rule followers. It’s an assumption that runs contrary to our own. Unlike Garrels, most of us think that the waves of oppression, domination, and injustice arise solely from the drug lords, crooked politicians, and criminals—in other words, from the bad men. They are the ones responsible for the regime. Yet while bad men certainly play their part, I think Garrels has a point.
The truth is that good men contribute much to the structures of this world. Think about it. Good men are prone to protect, and so they work for stability. Good men like to keep the boat steady, and so they don’t allow for radical course corrections. Good men want to give assurances and make promises, and so they create lots of policies and procedures to keep us safe. Good men like to show the prettier side of things, and so questions that poke holes in their presentations are often labeled as negative or even disloyal. Good men can be conservative in the worst sense of the word, stiff-arming innovation with rolls of red tape, declaring with confidence, “The system works well enough. We’re doing the best we can. Our intentions are noble.” And so the status quo holds fast due to the diligent efforts of good men.
How does this happen? How do good men become a part of the regime? Garrels offers an answer: They don’t believe in resistance. They fail to critically analyze the ideologies of this world, and so they are unprepared to resist them. Too many good men fail to heed the words of the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let yourself be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age” (Rom 12:2). Obedience here requires active resistance; the regime flourishes by subtle means when we let down our defenses. Without resistance, we’re assimilated, and we don’t even know it.
Without resistance, good men with good intentions will inevitably slip into the patterns of this evil age.
It’s not that sooner or later good men are unwittingly going to turn around and start shooting people, but rather that popular notions, incompatible with the ethic of Jesus, will begin to sound reasonable to embody—certain notions of success, of courageous leadership, of religious conviction, and of personal ambition. These notions slowly become the subject of our conversations, the content of our imaginations, the stories we tell our children, and ultimately the fuel of the very regime we say we despise.
I had a professor who once offered his students this proverb: “I used to think that bad people did bad things for bad reasons. Now I believe that good people do bad things for seemingly good reasons.”
That’s my fear.
That’s why this lyric returns to my mind again and again. And so I pray, Heavenly Father, save me from becoming a good man who quietly and unknowingly becomes a part of the regime. Teach me to practice resistance.
Wes Gristy is an associate pastor at All Saints Anglican Church in Jackson. He’s been married to his kick-butt wife Abbie for eleven years, and they have a brilliant four-year-old daughter and hilarious one-and-a-half-year-old son. Wes is one of my very best friends who has taught me much about the costs of resistance, and about what it actually looks like to push hard into the questions and compassion and work of the kingdom. I’m grateful to him for guest posting, among many other things.
This post is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. For Part 2, CLICK HERE.
One of the things that has become a favorite of teaching has been when students disagree with me. This semester has seen a class filled with diversity in age, income, race, and worldview. It has made conversations thicker and richer because no one in the room can get away with saying something while assuming everyone both sees it the same way and agrees with our conclusion.
I’ve seen the nature of the class feeling and creating a culture of safety in dialogue grow all of us into wiser practitioners and students of those around us. They have been a gift, and I thought of our class when I read these notes from Bertrand Russell in last week’s braingpickings.org weekly email. Considering Russell’s stance on religion, and also considering sending practitioners into the world who are Christians, it feels that more important than even knowing certain things is knowing how to think through certain things, how to disagree, how to ask questions, and how to engage.
I hope you find these as interesting as I did, in light of Russell’s zeitgeist and the one in which we find ourselves.