Shall we talk about depravity?
Though it's not something we really dwell on in Anglicanism, that's really a Calvinist obsession - it's worth noting what it means, because it's a fundamental idea in Christianity.
Real Talk. Our lives are broken. The chances of our lives not being broken in some way are absolutely zero.
That's not a judgment of you, or me, or anyone else. We're born as animals, and anyone who's dealt with small children know they strike out, they bite. They cry if their needs aren't immediately met. From an adult perspective, they're selfish, they're sometimes violent, and so forth. But we're talking about creatures who don't yet have object permanence or understand the concept of self and other. All of their animal urges need to be socialized - and during that process, children have been known to soil themselves, masturbate in public, and break taboos when using their newfound powers of speech.
Most religions believe you're not truly responsible for what you do until about the age of 12.
Fair enough - but look at what happens in the interim. Is that socialization going to be 100% positive? In other words, are you going to be born to that one in a million saint who won't inadvertently transfer his or her human prejudices to you? In an extreme example, I know for sure three of my high school classmates were sexually assaulted by parents. Some I've seen deal with recurring emotional abuse.
There's no way that cannot affect you.
Modern society tries to insulate people from their inherent brokenness - "trigger warnings", extreme censorship and identity politics which amount to "I'm okay, you're a jerk." Couple that with the self-esteem movement, which divorces someone's sense of self-worth from any metric other than "because I say so", trophies for everyone - and you have a toxic brew of simply denying these impulses exist. I'm not putting down the motivation behind this set of impulses - to want to shield everyone from objectionable words and behavior and tell everyone they have inherent worth. I'm saying even the most secular, liberal, hip folks still recognize that damage exists.
And that damage is total.
If you don't believe we can be turned into monsters easily - ignore the cruelty we ignore on a daily basis - excusing slavery in the name of cheap goods, ignoring the shootings in the inner city and the horrible income inequality or even the historical records of a Nazi Germany - just read the Milgram Experiment.
Everything we are and everything we experience colors every aspect of who we are. Even the most saintly of us had moments of selfishness, doubt, and condemnation. And even if we don't - we still belong to systems that cause hideous damage by proxy. Mr. Rogers may have never uttered an unkind word in his life (urban legends that he was an ex-sniper to the contrary) but he drove a car - and in order to keep that car supplied with oil and gasoline, we've incurred a lot of dead Arab kids. His taxes went to pay for warheads and soldiers that toppled democratic governments and installed US-friendly dictators.
"But it's impossible not to" - you say. Ask the Amish.
Where I'm going with this is that to have a world, as the Eurythmics put it - with "no fear, no hate, no pain, no broken hearts" we have to let go of literally everything we hold dear. The amount of sin, selfishness, damage, trigger warnings, self-justification, coping strategies, prejudices, and so forth has to be literally zero. It has to. The Bible explains that all of this stemmed from the slightest deviation from perfection - eating a fruit we were told not to. "Big deal" some have said, reading that story. "It's just a stupid apple". It isn't. It's the principle that there was a choice - what I want vs what someone else has asked me to for good reason. And within a generation, we had murder.
That's what we mean by total depravity. Unfortunately the connotation of the word implies, usually, some kind of Marquis de Sade unstoppable sex maniac or some gibbering, Joker out of the Batman comics style freak.
Two very high profile cases broke this week - the Ashley Madison hackers dumped 9.8 GIGAbytes of text data into a torrent and basically showed the world the complete goings-on therein. Jared Fogle of Subway turned out not just to be in possession of child porn but to have had sex with at least 14 children, travelling to New York to pay for this. He was into child porn, the younger the better, in his own words.
Too many people would dwell on the condemnation here: of course Jared has done some horrible things, and there's a certain glee in knowing that Josh Duggar was a member of Ashley Madison and preached with an upraised finger in the light, while skulking around cheating on his pregnant wife in the dark.
But there's something we're skipping over here: there are 14 children who were sold for sex - we never heard what's being done about that. Even with the pimps involved in jail and getting their just desserts, you can't give a child back their life 100% after something like that.
There's a young woman with a man's child inside her publicly humiliated and dealing with the aftermath that he was looking for other women to insert sex toys into, with people doubly putting in the boot because of her unpopular religious beliefs.
Jared's wife is leaving him not only because he preferred the sexual company of young children, but also animals. And, forgive me my sympathy for the devil, but Jared cannot have been 100% comfortable with having to skulk around in the dark, in constant terror of one day hearing the marshals at his door and feeling handcuffs around his wrists, knowing he's headed somewhere where his kind are raped viciously - if they're lucky.
There's a problem with our language here - "total depravity" suggests condemnation. Judgment. A value judgment. Scorn. But in Christianity's case, nothing could be more from the truth.
Some religions preach of a great judge who sits in the sky, ready to hurl lightning bolts and condemnation. Jesus simply responded to a Pharisee demanding the required scriptural remedy for adultery - death - by writing something in the sand, something which made the man get up and hurry away. We can't know what it was - but most have come to believe that it was some past pecadillo of the Pharisee - written out in the sand. A reminder he had no business throwing stones inside his glass mansion.
Some say the solution is to deny everything and deny one's self, shave your hair, shave your eyebrows, eat once a day, close your eyes and dissociate from this world. The Christian answer is marvellous - that God himself decided to reach into the muck and mire of human existence, taking on our form - to suffer with us, to be in our midst, to hold out a hand and say "grab a hold of me, I'll pull you out of this. Just trust me." God knows full well who we are, how often we miss the mark - the dark secrets we all carry. And that can only begin when we surrender our own ego and our own sense of righteousness and admit that we're just not wired to be anything other than selfish and broken, and that our lives are often so horribly messy.
But His solution is not to rub our faces in it - but to come amongst us. To forgive us. To tell us to forgive each other, over and over. To be mindful, to be caring, to realize we're not going to always get it right - but hope that it'll get better.