Society on the couch

Can you use cartoons in an academic paper? Ann Fink did. Her article is a case study I may use in ethics class.

She asks how to treat this police officer. During Algeria’s War of Independence, he presents to Dr Frantz Fanon (psychiatrist) suffering PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) as a result of his work, which involves torture. He’s not coping, and his home life is becoming increasingly violent.

The patient asks Fanon “to help him torture … with a total peace of mind.” Is it possible to treat the inspector in a meaningful way?

How would you advise the doctor?

Fink doesn’t answer her question directly. Her point is that treating an individual in isolation (as psychiatry does) isn’t enough:

What do individual interventions accomplish in the absence of concurrent political and social transformations? I argue that a holistic understanding of PTSD entails a set of social obligations: to address at its root political, gendered, and racialized violence, to repudiate occupations centered on exploitative manipulation of individuals and cultures, and to social change that prioritizes these commitments.

She’s right. We’re social beings, not machines. A machine will work if you fix the individual parts, but treating individual humans doesn’t create social cohesion. In fact, this focus on the self can weaken the social dimension. It’s wealthy Westerners who buy psychiatry to address what’s going on inside them, but who addresses sociology — what’s going on between us?

This same “fix me” mentality diminishes our understanding of the gospel too. Parts of the church have swapped the good news of Jesus (his kingship over the earth) for good news about me (personal benefits for the consumer). We’ve treated people as if their personal guilt is the problem (for which getting my forgiveness is the answer), instead of recognizing sin as the dominion of evil over God’s world (for which Jesus’ appointment as resurrected king is the answer).

The gospel is the good news of Jesus kingship. Jesus cares for individuals, but his gospel was the gospel of the kingdom of God, the creation of a society where people from all nations treat each other as he intends. It’s in that renewed social fabric that we find Jesus present among us, just as he promised.

Perhaps you’ve read the great commission as if Jesus said, “Go get individuals saved.” Is this closer to our king’s vision for us?

Matthew 28:17-20 (paraphrased, compare NIV.)
17 Seeing God’s anointed back from the dead, they bowed the knee in worship to their king, though some hesitated with uncertainty.

18 King Jesus approached them and issued this commission. “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth, so here’s your task:

19 Go and apprentice all the nations into life under my kingship. With the authoritative name of the Father (our sovereign in heaven), the Son (his anointed ruler on earth), and the Holy Spirit (restorer of life to the devastated earth), perform the symbolic act of washing people as they leave their oppression under evil and enter the community under my authority.

20 Teach them to be the society that obeys all that I, your king, command. In doing so, you’ll discover that you’re not on your own. You’ll experience me, your king, living among you. I will be with you for this whole process, until the era of the rebellion is over and heaven’s reign is restored.”

The gospel of Jesus proclaims social transformation — out of slavery under evil, into a unified society restructured under God’s anointed. Jesus isn’t a psychiatrist who relieves individuals of guilt feelings and leaves them to torture each other.

One of Ann Fink’s cartoons

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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