In the year 2000, award-winning American novelist Philip Roth published a book titled The Human Stain. The book is a loose continuation of 2 prior books, whose main character follows significant cultural events during his lifetime. The Human Stain follows a college professor named Coleman Silk. Coleman is a fair-skinned black man, who decided in his early 20s that he could pass for a white Jewish man, while in fact not being Jewish or white. Coleman rose in the ranks of college professors, gaining a fair amount of notoriety, so much so that others around him did what they could to bring him down.
Late in his career students in his class misheard him say the word “spooks” in reference to ghosts, but some students believed he used the word in a derogatory manner toward blacks. He, actually being a black man, of course, did not. But accusations swirled and Silk would not apologize, and he was forced to resign into early retirement, his character successfully tarnished.
In trying to process the evil that took place in forcing him out, while clearly ignoring the evil that made him create a whole new identity for himself, he has a conversation with his sister, and she has some profound thoughts related to evil, sin, and what the author Philip Roth calls the human stain:
“We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error…there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark. Without the sign it is there. The stain so intrinsic it doesn’t require a mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It’s why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy of purity is appalling.”
What the main character’s sister is articulating is something I think all recognize, even if only in a small way. That this world is broken. That, in fact, we are broken, a part of the larger problem. And this goes deeper than our decisions or choices, there’s a stain deep within us that has damaged us, and it’s causing all of these impurities in us.
A few weeks ago Vanity Fair ran a lengthy and sweeping article on the use of hook-up apps such as Tinder among 20-somethings in New York. While it’s use in New York (or as stated within the article) may not represent the overall scope of hook-up culture, it was impossible not to read the entire thing with wide eyes, looking for a chaser.
Here’s the introduction the article has on the increasing phenomenon of hook-up culture:
“As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex…Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship.”
The use of mobile apps only adds to ease of the hook-up instead of relationship building. There’s no need to pursue a woman when all you need to do is swipe. An investment banker had this to say about Tinder:
“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”
When it comes to sinful behavior, confession of it in trusted community is God’s design. The typical reactions outside of God’s design are either to hide (see part one) or to indulge. While the overindulgence of sinful behavior will often lead to hiding, it does damage on its own.
This hook-up culture of overindulgence in sex and its neighbors creates a narcissistic individual who aims to use their freedom for their own benefit.
Beyond this, hook-up culture would posit God as someone who is so distant that our actions have no consequence positive or negative, and we must always be on the look out for our own good. In the absence of God we choose to drown in our own stain, or sin, as it were.
In Genesis 3 we see from Adam and Eve that you become what you behold. This same story of drowning in the stain we choose to hold more closely than Christ, continues on.
In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 we’re given a glimpse of breaking the cycle when Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
As we contemplate the Lord’s glory, as we behold his glory, as we focus on it, we are transformed by it. Adam and Eve were beheld by fulfilling the desires of their flesh, for giving into the temptation they felt. They became what they beheld, walking down the empty road toward gratifying the desires of their flesh.
What we must be challenged by, is to behold the glory of God, that we might be transformed by it.