Thinking Friend Charles Kiker referred to Harvey Cox in commenting on a recent blog article. I responded (see here) by acknowledging my appreciation of Cox’s thinking and by mentioning his book On Not Leaving It to the Snake (1967).
Even though I have long been an admirer of his, up to this point I have not written about Cox, now professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, in any of my blog articles. I am filling that lacuna now.
Harvey Cox (b. 1929) became widely known in theological circles—and beyond—with the publication of his book The Secular City (1965). Remarkably, it has sold over a million copies, a rarity for a theological book.
Cox’s book titled God’s Revolution and Man’s Responsibility was also published in 1965. Unlike the former book, which I read soon after it came out (and again later with even more appreciation), I didn’t read this latter book until in the 1970s. I found it, too, to be a good and important book.
Through the years, Cox has written many other books—including one I have not seen yet: The Market as God (2016), introduced in a Jan. 5, 2017, article in The Nation.
It is specifically Cox’s On Not Leaving It to the Snake, though, that I am writing about in this article. More particularly, I am focusing on the part of that book most relevant to us now: “Introduction: Faith and Decision” (pp. vii-xviii).
Cox explains that in the long history of Christian theology, “original sin” has generally been interpreted in such a way that pride is seen to be “the most dangerous of all human sins.”
In contrast, using the “sexist” language usual for the 1960s, Cox avers that “man’s most debilitating proclivity is not his pride. It is not his attempt to be more than man. Rather it is his sloth, his unwillingness to be everything man was intended to be.”
Accordingly, in the Genesis story of Eve, she was guilty of the sin of sloth, letting the snake tell her what to do.
The ongoing significance of that mythical story is simply this: “Adam and Eve are the biblical Everyman and Everywoman. Their sin is our sin.”
It might be argued that part of the political problem we have in the U.S. today is because many voters committed the sin of sloth. And here I am thinking of the (literally) millions of people who voted for Obama in 2012 but who--because of apathy, or whatever—did not vote at all in 2016.
Further, and perhaps even worse, is the fact that probably millions of voters left it up not to the snake but to the fox (Fox News) to tell them (implicitly, if not explicitly) who to vote for.
In looking ahead, the sin of sloth/apathy may well do the country in—or vigilant resistance/action may keep the country from going down the tubes.
The March 2017 issue of The Atlantic has a long and significant article titled "How to Build an Autocracy" (which you can read here). In that article, David Frum, the author, “argues that if Congress is quiescent and the public apathetic, President Trump can set the country down a path toward illiberalism, institutional subversion, and endemic graft.”
So far, there has been considerable resistance to DJT. Let’s pray that peaceful actions for justice will continue and that a large majority of the population will not succumb to the sin of apathy and will not leave it to the snake (or the fox) to tell them what to do.