by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Hello to all who read this regularly – or newcomers. I’m happy to introduce myself in this new capacity as Blog Coordinator. Strange to feel nervous but I do. Joy created this opening for us to read and to write and she will always be the Mistress of the Bigger Circle. I can’t be Joy but I will just charge ahead and count on you to help keep this blog as readable and provocative as it’s been. There is no one better than Joy to turn attention and talents to creating some fresh thinking on maintaining and creating good social housing so thank goodness she is moving in that direction. I hope she will try out ideas on us.
Here go my words for the week.
Is Sin No Longer a Useful Concept?
Has the very notion of Sin become obsolete, having no relevance to current thinking?
Is it just out of fashion, being totally uncool but maybe still having serious meaning in some situations?
Is the term mainly useful as a tool for those who care to divide the righteous from the damned?
Has it lost credibility as a descriptor for wrongdoing actions because such a religious term, with all the baggage of history, doesn’t work in a world where the very notion of right and wrong seems up for grabs much of the time. Shaming and judgment, common enough in our private attitudes, are generally rejected in public discourse.
Whatever the reasons, we don’t tend to talk about what constitutes a Sin and about who decides what is one. Yet, it is still very much alive as a pillar of Christian thought, even while resting on the shelf, unused in everyday Christian circles.
So the question I put forward is what keeps us from tossing out the word? What value does it retain in serious discussion among trusted friends (yourselves, dear readers) who remain committed to looking for what is authentic in living. (Once we get past that formidable descriptor, should be a breeze.)
To the extent I am still Roman Catholic, I’m a Vatican Two type. Not being to the Catholic Cradle born, my fundamental mind and soul were not as shaped by religious teachers as if I had been. But my mother, a solid Methodist, used it as the ultimate epithet to describe my late teen-age and early 20’s behaviour when I leapt on the Revolution bandwagon. A bikini waist on a pair of turquoise latex trousers started us off. I mention this to explain that I’m genuinely wondering about what’s been lost or gained between her era and mine regarding recognizing wrong risky actions. She saw the low-slung pants as encouraging Sin . She felt I was on the verge of committing it myself by wearing such a clear signal of interest in what men enjoyed looking at. She also felt ashamed – I was shaming her as well as myself by being so bold. Then and now I can say that I was just enjoying the sauciness of the whole thing. Marilyn Munroe was my favourite female image. But did my mother have any point worth considering?
So there’s the first argument for the usefulness of Sin as a social construct, defining what’s acceptable to decent people. What is now acceptable, or decent for that matter, has a huge range and can anyone easily define its limits? Further, by flaunting social convention, was I turning my back on what God would want? My mother saw the two as the same (social acceptability and God’s will). I claimed that nothing in the Bible prohibited turquoise bikini-cut trousers. But in rejecting my mother’s traditional judgment about Sinful intentions was I crossing a bigger line between right and wrong than I understood? I was choosing to navigate by my own moral compass and was I ready for that?
I was rushing headlong toward a life in which I wouldn’t choose my actions based on what my mum, teachers, or anybody else approved. Increasingly, it was all to be worked out as I went, as WE went (my generation and I). I didn’t know it but we had caught the Existential zietgiest and would live based more on immediacy and self-determination than by the norms we’d been taught. Sin was part of the straight world of rigid codes and labels. But those codes and labels provided safety if you were inside and supported by them. Letting so much go was dangerous emotionally and socially.
The issue of God’s will and social norms needed to be separated out for anyone seeking authenticity (the existentialist Holy Grail) but rejecting both puts a person in a scary place.
Another reason for not entirely jettisoning Sin as a concept is that recognizing it in oneself is a portal to freedom from the burden of carrying it. First is the recognizing and naming of the thing we’ve done that we know was wrong: mostly to do with hurting another, betrayal of trust, taking what wasn’t ours. There are lots of wrong behaviours. Carrying them unresolved can be heavy.
For some, therapy in all its forms holds real help. For other still in the religious fold, the ritual of Confession is healing – the protocol for bringing oneself back into self-alignment. A relaxation of sorts. Once a wrong (a sin) is named and truly regretted (repented), then you can tell it (confess it) to someone who has access to the healing resolution (the sacrament of reconciliation). For Anglicans and Roman Catholics, the priest has this capacity to forgive on behalf of God. Here, the whole thing becomes inaccessible to many. Perhaps to me. The priest. Hmmm. Only men for R..C.’s. And why only the ordained? And, and… A penalty of some kind is required (the penance) and once accepted, one leaves, one’s sin forgiven (absolution).
Of course, confession requires the concept of Sin. Without that, what are some of the other processes available, for dealing with one’s wrongdoing?
Please join in.