Monday, October 3, 2022

ordinary garden-variety sin

     The thing I'm trying to address in these last few blog posts is the crippling sense of guilt, shame, and/or fear of punishment that too many people have been taught to feel about sin. Sin is a thing ... we all do it ... we all sin every day. So, looked at from one side, it's really no big deal. It's just the ordinary humanness, it's just all the little ways we all mess up all the time, overspending, overeating, surfing porn, little white lies, bigger lies, padding the expense account, losing our temper, lashing out, yelling at the kids, gossiping, flirting (or more) with someone we shouldn't be flirting with, compromising our values for the paycheck, taking more credit than is due, goofing off on the job, whatever it is. They're bad habits, they're weaknesses, they're so ordinary.

    Is "sin" too heavy a word for a little white lie? For wasting food or electricity? For talking about someone behind their back? For the third glass of wine? No, it's the right word -- what's wrong is the crushing heaviness. That doesn't mean it doesn't matter. It matters! These are all things that hurt us or others. They are all things that sting our consciences. It's as Julian says, "sin is known by the pain it is cause of." I guess the thing I mean to say, though, is that hating on ourselves for our faults does not cure us of our faults. Threats do not work. Guilt and shame do not motivate us to change. On the contrary, they rather motivate us to go deeper into whatever thing we are doing, back into the sin, to anesthetize or distract or console ourselves for the pain we have caused by our sin.

    The fear of judgment is a very, very poor motivator for change. And anyway, judgment is kind of inappropriate, because really, would you get mad at a four-year-old for not putting dinner on the table by 6:30? Would you yell at your dog for not learning to read? Would you blame an orange tree for failing to bear fruit (or even survive) in your garden in Saskatchewan? We are human, therefore we sin. It is normal, it is to be expected. Why would we expect our Creator to condemn us for being what we were created to be? Merely human. 

    OK, yes, I know why we are taught to expect fire and brimstone. It says it in the Bible, I get it. Even in the gospels, the threat comes from Jesus's own mouth. I'm sorry, I don't believe it. There is the pain that sin is the cause of, and that is real; hellfire and brimstone would be superfluous. This is one reason I'm a Catholic, because sola scriptura doesn't hold any water with me. Not that the Catholic catechism doesn't also threaten Hell, it does. But Catholicism has room for Julian of Norwich, too, and a whole vast diversity of experience and thought. 

    I do not believe that our loving God threatens us with eternal damnation for being human. Because, you know, who would escape? It's like it says in Psalm 130: "If you, O God, should mark our guilt, O God, who would survive?" God is Love. Love is God's nature, it's not a choice God makes, it's who and what God is. God couldn't stop loving us if s/he tried. Our existence is the fruit of God's love, our coming into existence and our continuing in existence. There is no wrath in God, only love, only compassion.

    I know I said I wanted to write about the ancient monastic approach to sin, as a healthier alternative to the blame-and-shame game. And I will, I promise, but this is enough for one post. Meanwhile, let me just recommend the book that turned me onto that monastic approach, much more complete and coherent than you're going to read in my blog: Thoughts Matter, by Mary Margaret Funk, OSB. Check it out, it's very worth reading, for anyone who wants to learn a more realistic, self-compassionate, and effective way of becoming, gradually, a better version of themselves.


​​​​​​​*** PEACE ***

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