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The Guilty Genes

Apparently the genes did it – or rather, do it. Apparently there is a fat gene responsible for making people fat. That’s according to research carried out at University College London. You may discern the note of scepticism in my tone, and you would be right. It’s funny how this gene-based obesity seems to turn up only in the well-off, fast-food guzzling, beer quaffing, chocolate munching, fizzy-drink gulping, calorie laden West (in particular the UK, Ireland and America).

Where are the chubby Lithuanians? Or the obese Egyptians? I spent two weeks in Nigeria, and didn’t see anyone who would be termed as obese. And I managed to lose half a stone, while remaining well fed and really enjoying the food. (Don’t get me started on a fantastic chilli and ginger dish we had.)

Have you noticed it’s always the genes – there’s a gene for homicidal maniacs, a gene for sexuality, a gene for road rage, for stealing, for drug taking. If we’ve got a problem, someone is sure to come up with a gene to pin the blame on. What did we do before we discovered genes?

People aren’t responsible for anything anymore. It’s always someone else’s fault, or even better: our gene’s fault. We see this desertion of responsibility in how people apologise – “I’m sorry I had a bad day”. Or, “It’s because of my background.” Or, “If I had more support I wouldn’t have done that.” When did you last hear someone stand up, admit responsibility, not make any excuses or qualifications, and apologise.

Now, I am well aware that there are factors that exacerbate a situation, and I’m aware that for a small minority of people suffering from mental problems things aren’t clear-cut. But the simple truth is that for the majority of us, we do what we do because we choose to do it. The problem isn’t out there, or even in our genes, such that we can evade responsibility. The problem is us. We choose to do what we do.

And that admission of guilt is the key to freedom. That’s the irony. People seek freedom from their problems by shifting the blame. The answer isn’t to shift the blame, but to welcome it. Because it is to those who acknowledge that they are the problem and that they are responsible, that God offers forgiveness for the past, and transformation for the present and future. Guilt is not to be evaded, but embraced. That’s the paradox of the good news Jesus brings: if you admit your guilt you will be declared innocent, if you strive for innocence, you will be found guilty.