Dear friends. Fans of music from the 1980’s will remember Howard Jones. He had a hit with a song called ‘No one is to Blame’ in which he sings ‘No one, no one, no one ever is to blame’. While I like the song, I have a problem with its message. Instead of living at a time when ‘No one ever is to blame’ for the things that are wrong in the world, it seems that everyone is to blame – except me. In legal terms, we ask the question when something bad happens – ‘So who can I sue?’ Someone else is always at fault, but never me.
In today’s first reading, we find the origin of our tendency to play the blame game and to accuse someone else. The scene is the Garden of Eden just after Adam and Eve has sinned. First, God confronts Adam with what he has done: ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ Adam’s response lays the blame at two doors – God’s and Eve’s: ‘It was the woman you put with me. She put me up to it. So it’s really your fault and hers’. Then it’s Eve’s turn. ‘It’s not my fault. It was that awful serpent. He is to blame’.
All of this should sound familiar because it is what we are tempted to do as well – to accuse, to scapegoat and to blame others but never myself. Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes others are in the wrong and it is right to call other people and institutions to account. But unless I myself take responsibility for things then it is always someone else’s problem but never mine. As long as this attitude persists, the world does not change and neither do we. As Christians, we believe in a man who, though innocent, died accused and blamed for crimes of which he was innocent. In order to preserve the egos and pride of those around him, he had to be sacrificed. But this is what our fragile egos still do – blaming God and others in order to distract attention away from personal responsibility. Someone must pay, but not me.
That is why Confession is still so important for us Catholics, beginning with the opening words that stops the blame game in its tracks and focuses instead on the naked truth about myself: ‘Bless me father, for I have sinned’. This honest truth is the starting point for my conversion and change. Facing ourselves and the truth of who we are begins with honesty. It is no coincidence that as the blame culture rises, the numbers availing of God’s mercy in Confession falls.
I close with words from Jordan Peterson, a professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto whose popularity has sky-rocketed with his lectures and videos on YouTube. In talks to thousands, Peterson often grounds his insights in the stories of the Bible and insists that his wisdom is not new but a re-presentation in modern times what the wisdom of the ancients have insisted all along. In his latest book ’12 Rules for Life’ Peterson writes ‘Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t blame others. Have humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?’ This advice is as good for Adam and Eve as it is for you and I.
So let us set our own house in perfect order before we criticise the world. Real change begins not with others but with me.