April 22, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Remember, sin is not only in the eye of the beholder

Cynthia DewesWe don’t seem to hear much about sin anymore. Unless we happen to tune in to one of those fiery TV preachers whose presumable aim is to scare the whey out of his listeners, sin rarely comes to our attention.

We all know that sin exists. After all, we recognize the Original Sin (capitalized) as the cause of our human struggle to reach heaven. We also know that we’re often tempted to do things we know we shouldn’t, or to think bad thoughts. We’ve been given the sacrament of reconciliation to help us sort it all out.

From the time we’re born, we are taught to know the difference between right and wrong. We hear “No!” for the first of many times, and learn that sin has consequences we don’t like. So we join the majority of our peers whose behavior is acceptable in society.

Much of our culture includes allusions and references to sin, from saying “I’m sorry” for coughing in public, to the promises to be good in the Boy Scout Oath, to the Confiteor. Contrition is the desired and acceptable response to sin but the thing is, it has to be sincere.

On the other hand, sin can be a lot of fun. We may enjoy an adulterous relationship immensely, or get satisfaction from making a smart aleck reply to a perceived insult. We may cheat a bit on our taxes, forget to include a tip, or inflate the billed hours we’ve worked in order to have more money. We may boss the servers or snub the neighbors just because we’re feeling ornery.

Some of us deny that there is such a thing as sin. We use euphemisms like “mercy killing” and “assisted suicide,” or we blame sinful behavior on having experienced a dysfunctional childhood or an abusive parent. Personal responsibility is not important.

We claim that legal abortion is not infanticide. And we become infuriated when people try to remove our right to destroy fetuses of handicapped children or those whose race or gender doesn’t suit us.

Sometimes, we get so far off track that we actually legislate that sin be legal, as in abortion. But we’ve also had slavery codified, unfair property rights upheld and other kinds of wrongdoing made the law of the land. Of course, we always try to rationalize by describing good motives for such actions.

In regard to abortion, for example, we say it’s a civil rights issue, i.e. a woman has a right to control her own body. Never mind that the fetus also has a right, under our constitution, to “LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We take care of that incongruity by claiming a fetus is not (yet) a baby. Or some will say that rape victims have a right to abort the resulting fetus. Again, what happened to the rights of the baby who inevitably follows?

In previous times, when we heard about sin in more graphic detail from the pulpit, people could become overly scrupulous. We had a relative like that, who was so obsessed with sin that her confessor finally told her to stop bringing non-sins to the confessional. Fortunately, there’s a middle way to understand and deal with sin.

I believe that all of us know when we’re contemplating or doing the wrong things. Most of us have what’s called an informed conscience, and we should always pay attention to what it’s informing us. Sometimes there are gray areas which take more prayerful attention, but it’s worth the effort.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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