Sin, Confession, and Dominion

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 27, 2021

Chalcedon Position Paper No. 34, October 1982

By early summer of 1982, it was clear that the feminist equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dead. The movement perished in part because of its own excesses. These excesses were born out of the mythology of modern man and man’s view of himself as a victim rather than a sinner. Of course, ever since Adam and Eve, people have chosen to plead an innocence born of environmental premises. Adam and Eve both pleaded victimization; their own hearts were good, but the environment led them astray. When the women’s liberation movement made half the human race into victims and the other half into oppressors, it pushed the myth too far. One woman, in an impassioned book, portrayed all men at heart as rapists. Sadly, some clergymen, in reviewing the work, praised it; one wonders at their mentality, and certainly their womenfolk should! In another highly praised book, another feminist wrote, “When a female child is passed from lap to lap so that all the males in the room (father, brother, acquaintance) can get a hard-on, it is the helpless mother standing there and looking on that creates the sense of shame and guilt in the child.” Prestigious publications praised this garbage, but attitudes like this have helped weaken the old foundations of humanistic thought which has made us all into victims and also all into oppressors. If we are male or female, we victimize sometime. If we are parents, we warp children. If we are rich, middle class, or poor, we somehow are responsible for the evils of our time.

Responsibility, denied by environmentalism, has a habit of reappearing! We may be victims of our environment, but, because we are someone else’s environment, we are guilty, not for our own sins, but for someone else’s sins! This places us in an ugly predicament; our own sins, we can do something about, but we cannot do much about the sins of a man down the road.

The doctrine of the conflict of interests (and Darwinism) has greatly increased the problem. Class (or race, or religious, or social) warfare is assumed to be basic to the human situation. The “superior” group is then by definition the oppressing group. If you are rich, you are by common assumption the oppressor of the poor. If you are white, you are racist; if you are a male, you are guilty of sexism, and so on and on.

But sin is common to all of us. Marx portrayed the capitalist as the oppressor of the workingman, and the debaucher of the working-girl. Of course, this did not keep Marx, the socialist, from debauching his wife’s maid, nor modern socialists from doing the same. Women executives can be as guilty of sexism as men, and as zealous in their pursuit of underlings.

Moreover, the plain fact is that maids have often seduced their masters or their master’s son, no less than masters have seduced maids. Sin is not a property belonging to any race or class, nor is virtue.

We have long been subjected to the myth of the innocent or oppressed class. Films and television have treated us ad nauseam with tales of whores with hearts of gold. For film writers, it would seem that the one qualification for virtue is to have no virtue. We are shown a world of sorry victims who are the casualties of life, having been exploited by someone.

It is at this point that modern thought is meeting with disaster. It denies the Biblical doctrine of sin for a concept of an evil environment. We are all victims, but, because we are all somebody’s environment, we are all an evil force which needs bulldozing out of the way. Out of such an impasse, men see no escape.

For some years now, we have seen a growing disaffection and distaste for modern thought on the part of the very children of our modern leaders. The student rebels of the 1960s came largely from liberal and permissive homes; they were indeed the children of the establishment.

The rebellion of the 1960s has given way to cynicism and indifference. There is a dropping out into drugs, liquor, or simple existence without relevance. I talked briefly in the past year or so with the son of a prominent father, whose mother is also a part of the intellectual community. His parents were both dismayed, he said, because he had quit the university, after less than two years, to take a job. When I asked him why, he described the university as “just plain s—t. All they do is to lay a guilt trip on you.” This young man was very much a part of the modern culture in his habits and tastes, but he had broken with the essence of modernism, its doctrine of man as victim. When he saw his parents, he loved to offend them, by his own admission, by ridiculing their belief in the innocence of minority groups, unions, or anything else he could think of, not out of conviction but out of contempt for the modern myth.

The homosexuals and the feminists have both exploited the myth, and both are beginning to see the hints of its decline and even backlash.

David, in Psalm 8:4, asks the question of God, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” To be mindful in Hebrew means to think well of, to consider favorably. In essence, mindfulness has a religious root. God is mindful of man, because, first, man is His creation, made in His own image, for righteousness, knowledge, holiness, and dominion. Second, God is mindful of man, because He has given man a great calling, the task of subduing the earth, and of exercising dominion over it (Gen. 1:26–28). For the performance of this task, God has crowned man “with glory and honour” (Ps. 8:5) and has placed all things implicitly under man.

At least from Nietzsche to Stalin and the present, a major strand of humanism has seen man merely as manure for the creation of the future superman or communistic man, or the Great Society. Virtually all humanism has seen man as either good or as neutral in his moral nature, and hence as a victim of God or the environment. This view of man is now in decay. Freud rightly saw his role as critical in the destruction of the Enlightenment’s optimistic view of man. Man for Freud is a product of his unconscious, and the unconscious is made up of the id, the anarchistic pleasure principle, man’s will to live; of the ego, the reality principle and the will to death; and the superego, the teachings and effects of the immediate environment. The id and ego represent the past environment. Freud saw little hope for man in escaping from his past. While some of Freud’s ideas are now under attack, his doctrine of man essentially remains in force, and it is contributing to the decay of the world of humanism.

In answer to the question, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him,” the modern world is answering that it is mindful of ideal man, the man of its imagined future. It is not mindful of independent man, Christian man, resisting man, or any man who refuses to bow down to the state. The modern state says, in effect, be a victim, and we will love you, and care for you.

But man today is seeing only the breakdown of the humanist order. In a play of 1967, The Hawk, a product of the experimental theater, the “Hawk” is a heroin peddler with an insatiable lust for victims. The Hawk’s litany is a simple one: he is an animal; he “kills” because he is hungry; whatever happens has no moral meaning; we do what by nature we are impelled to do. The world of The Hawk is beyond good and evil, beyond morality. It is a world in which all men are victims of their own nature, and their nature is a product of the past. In 1970, Michael Novak, in The Experience of Nothingness, said that the fundamental human question is, “Granted that I must die, how shall I live?” (p. 48).

To this question, the modern mind has no answer. In fact, at that time Novak himself could only say that there is no self over and apart from the world, only a self in tension with the world and a part of it, so that, better than speaking of the self, we should speak instead of “a conscious world” or “a horizon” (p. 55). Ethics, instead of being God’s commandment, was for Novak at that time simply man’s “invention” or “creation,” man’s “possibility” (p. 79).

For such opinions, men pay a price, or, in Seon Manley’s apt sentence, “we pay for dreams.” And dreams are broken by reality.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” has been answered increasingly with a rejection of mindfulness. Men are not even mindful of themselves, and suicidal habits are prevalent. To blunt one’s mind with drugs or marijuana is certainly a blatant example of unmindfulness. Man as victim cannot confess sin; he can only indulge in self-pity. On the other hand, in the Bible, we have a different view. In Joshua 7:19, Joshua tells Achan, the sinner, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory unto the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him.” The word confession in the Hebrew is todah, which means confession and praise. Thus, when Joshua asks Achan to confess his sins, which carried a death penalty, he was also asking him to praise God. This gives us a glimpse into a radically different world than that of twentieth-century man, for whom confession means essentially self-abasement and humiliation. In the Bible, the confession of sin is a major step in the restoration of order, God’s order, and it is thus a means toward praising God. The church of our day has lost the meaning of confession.

A victim cannot make confession. A man created to be a priest, prophet, and king in Christ finds in confession his restoration into a royal estate and a great calling.

“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God,” according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 14. Confession is the first step towards restoration into our God-appointed status and dominion. It is the recognition that we are not victims but sinners, and we are sinners because we have departed from and rebelled against God’s mandate and calling. There are indications that, in earlier centuries of the Christian era, monarchs, before their coronation, had to make confession. However falsely done by many kings, its purpose was to remind them that all men are judged by God’s law, and the praise of God begins with our confession of sins, and our submission to God’s law order. It is God’s law order which alone can exalt human society and make it joyful and triumphant.

David, after asking, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” goes on to say: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:6). The conclusion of true confession is dominion. The restored man as king exercises dominion over every area of life and thought and brings all things into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

The myth of victimization is being shattered. Its own advocates, by pushing it to its logical limits, have exposed its absurdities. It is a myth that has failed, and it is now dying.

This, however, is not enough. Clearing the ground of a tottering structure is a need, but it does not erect a new building. What is now needed is a strong and forthright emphasis on Christian Reconstruction, on dominion man and his mandate to conquer every area of life and thought for Christ, and on the certainty of victory. For victims, there is no victory. For confessors of the Name, victory is inescapable, because God the Lord remains forever king over all creation. Then let us be joyful, let the earth be glad “before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Ps. 96:13).

Topics: Biblical Commentary, Biblical Law, Christian Reconstruction, Culture , Dominion, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

More by R. J. Rushdoony