While I was watching the television news the other evening, it dawned on me that many pundits were trying to blame someone or something for undesirable events. There was much speculation and finger pointing as they looked for someone to pin the blame on and take responsibility for certain troubles.
Who was to blame for getting the world involved in Afghanistan and Iraq? Who caused the recent world recession and collapse of the banks? Who is the cause of the adverse fortunes of political parties? Who is to blame for a particular football team not winning? Who is to blame in cases of separation and divorce? And who is responsible if young men or women fail their exams, can’t get a job, or drift into taking drugs?
The world appears to be experiencing a contagion of blame. Blame (which relates to another familiar word, blaspheme) means to find fault with; to censure; to place responsibility on. Synonymous terms include condemnation, accusation, criticism, depreciation, rebuke, recrimination, reprimand, reproof.
The blame game is not a pleasant one, and it usually leads to division, alienation, opposition, hatred, and even revenge. Could it be that the habit of blaming is driven not by the issues but by an atmosphere of thought? Could blaming create more blaming? Is it contagious?
Here’s a little test. Keep a pad and pencil handy as you watch the news, listen to the radio, or surf the Internet, and jot down every instance where you encounter someone—a politician, coach, corporate executive, educator, commentator, or celebrity—blaming others for failure rather than accepting responsibility and moving forward graciously. Your test results might reveal how urgently prayer is needed.
The courage to stand up and take responsibility for our actions often requires strength and humility, but when the motive is pure and good, the results will bless all.
A scholarly article published in the October 17, 2009, issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology titled “Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions,” reports on some intriguing experiments carried out recently.
In considering the human tendency to attribute a personal failure to another person or event, the researchers conclude that we can soak up a propensity to blame from an atmosphere where people are busy casting blame, even when our issues have nothing to do with theirs. This, researchers suggest, is to protect our own threatened self-image. If we see situations where people save themselves by blaming others, we tend to pick up that same behavior. The interesting part, however, was that the researchers found that when people write about their own core values and affirm them for themselves, before writing about their own failures, the “blame contagion effect” is eliminated. Isn’t this really showing that as we consciously identify our true, original, innocent spiritual identity, we eliminate guilt and blame?
So where does the inclination to blame originate? Isn’t it in the second account of creation in the book of Genesis, where Adam is trying to find something or someone to blame for his own disobedience, and points a finger at Eve? (see chap. 3).
How often do we find ourselves blaming others for our own shortcomings? We blame our spouse, our children, the weather, our boss, the government, the president, the prime minister, the taxi driver, the computer. So is it better to put the blame on ourselves and weigh ourselves down with self-condemnation? No! While we recognize that we are in charge of our own thoughts and actions, the blame needs to be placed where it belongs, on erroneous, material thinking that is trying to pin itself onto person, place, or thing.
Mary Baker Eddy writes: “We are responsible for our thoughts and acts; … Each individual is responsible for himself” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 119). And elsewhere she writes: “This truth is, that we are to work out our own salvation, and to meet the responsibility of our own thoughts and acts; …” Then she quotes the Apostle Paul’s words, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Christian Healing, p. 5; Galatians 6:7).
The courage to stand up and take responsibility for our actions often requires strength and humility, but when the motive is pure and good, the results will bless all. This state of thought enables us to say humbly, “If I’ve done wrong, forgive me; I’ve learned a lesson and will do my utmost to make amends for my actions, never causing another to shoulder my responsibilities.” Sometimes the hardest words to utter are simply, “I’m sorry.”
In the Adam account of creation, the blame for the disaster actually rested on the serpent, which tried to make both Adam and Eve believe that God was not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Eve fell for the serpent’s wiles, until she realized what had happened and admitted that she had been deceived: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:13). Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, pointing to Eve’s “meek penitence,” suggests that the gist of her response might have been, “ ‘Neither man nor God shall father my fault.’ ” That passage continues: “She has already learned that corporeal sense is the serpent. Hence she is first to abandon the belief in the material origin of man and to discern spiritual creation” (pp. 533–534).
What, then, is the serpent? As we learn in Christian Science, the serpent is an error of thought so subtle that we often don’t recognize its hidden ways. In fact we often blame everything but the serpent! The Bible likens the subtle ways of the serpent to “an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). It’s actually the serpentine mental suggestions, and subsequent actions we take based on these suggestions, that lead to disasters, difficulties, and discord.
So often, both figuratively and perhaps literally speaking, we think the fall off the horse must be the rider’s fault; then we sometimes go a little further, and think that it might have been the horse’s fault. But how often do we recognize that it’s actually the serpent, the adder in the grass, that’s the ultimate guilty party?
Unless the serpent’s subtle activities are recognized and handled in prayer, we’ll continue to have bucking horses and fallen riders all over the place, because the serpent is still there, hidden in the grass, continuing to bite helpless, unaware victims. The blame always lies with the serpent, which is defined in part in the Glossary of Science and Health as “… the belief in more than one God; ... the first claim that there is an opposite of Spirit, or good, termed matter, or evil: the first delusion that error exists as fact; ... The first audible claim that God was not omnipotent and that there was another power, named evil, which was as real and eternal as God, good” (p. 594).
Jesus himself dealt with the concept of blame when he healed the man who was born blind. The Bible tells us that everyone, including the disciples, was trying to pin the blame for the man’s condition on someone else: “His disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:2, 3).
Jesus made it quite clear that blaming the parents or the man was wrong. Both were innocent. A glorious healing then took place, which revealed that neither the man nor his parents were to blame. Instead, God was glorified and seen as the only power and presence. This eliminated the serpentine suggestion of blindness, and the man was healed.
So, to summarize, what can we do to help a culture caught in a contagion of blame? Possibly three things: First, realize that blaming others or ourselves for failures and problems, far from being a bad but unimportant habit, is misguided, dishonest, and contagious, and we can refuse to take part in it or be infected by it.
Second, we can make sure that we always place the blame where it belongs, on the serpent—the subtle, erroneous suggestions of material, ungodlike thinking—and not on people. Sin must be addressed, and the call for repentance and reformation heeded. As Mrs. Eddy writes, “Sin is its own punishment” and “… real suffering for your own sins will cease in proportion as the sin ceases” (Science and Health, pp. 537, 391).
Third, we can recognize our own and others’ innate, innocent being as men and women created in the image and likeness of God, immune from and entirely separate from the deceptive, false accusations of the serpent. Truly lifting off the sense of blame in this way, we are able to rejoice in the words of the Apostle Paul: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
Jill Gooding is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who lives in Ripley, Surrey, England.
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