In the gospel, Jesus reiterates his delegation to the Church of the power to forgive sins, to bind and to loose people on that basis—With that authority however comes a great and difficult obligation: you have to warn people about their sins, tell them they risk everlasting damnation if they persist in them. It’s actually a genuinely loving thing to do: stop people from continuing in their destructive behaviour as it will destroy them, but also others… However, in today’s cultural climate of wokeness and progressive ideology, the idea of sin as real, and consequential, is a hard sell.
The Church is the watchman, and for some time now it’s been sounding the alarm; it has issued the warning, not only of sin entering into our lives, walking through wide open gates, but that sin is now disguised as virtue.
Listening to the Church on the matter of sin has always been a challenge. In the ancient era, the problem was one we’re familiar with: that people see others sin and get away with it; even profit by it, and live lives of glamour and power realized by their sinful actions. Sin becomes attractive, virtues are burdens.
In the modern era an attitude arose where people see their own sins as inconsequential. I spoke a couple of weeks ago about the secular concept of the victimless crime. That idea hinges on the idea of consent: how can an activity that I freely consent to and only involve others in consensually truly be a crime? It’s only in making it a crime that creates victims. The same thinking is then applied to sin; and that’s how I come to hear people joking that maybe they haven’t been to confession in years, but “hey, Father, it’s not like I’ve killed anybody.”
Catholic teaching is that sin at a minimum makes a victim of the sinner; and there is always a consequence for those around that person. Measuring it, it might be slight or severe in its effects, but one’s own sin, at the very least, makes you tolerant of others’ sins; and so you let things go, and make an unspoken compact to keep solidarity in sin in the face of ultimate, divine judgement. You dare God to condemn you on a technicality, so to speak, and so do what the scriptures warn us not to do: put him to the test.
In these post-modern times we live in today, a very dangerous argument has arisen, born of the neo-marxist thinking that informs the rhetoric of the rioters in American cities, of the statue toppling mob in Montreal and other Canadian cities, that underlies much of what is being taught to our children, not just in the universities but is also creeping into our grade schools and high schools under the guise of “social justice”. It is that this language of sin is a constructed fiction designed to control us; it comes from a conspiracy among powerful interests that want to keep human beings afraid and submissive. The seed of it was in the Reformation revolt against Catholicism: the accusation that the Church’s teaching on sin and the remedy for it was really a financial shakedown of the poor and a means of keeping the peasants in line through threat of excommunication and eternal damnation.
Within today’s secularized society, the idea of sin is seen as a holdover from the medieval period; propping up a weak vestige of the oppressive power of the Church that still seeks to control people’s lives for no other reason than priests enjoy having power over others. In denying sin even exists, so goes this thinking, we set people free.
The problem with this, as with all such arguments is answering the question, where is your proof of this conspiracy? What is your evidence that sin, as the Church understands it, as most civilizations have understood it, doesn’t exist?
Like the common and ridiculous assertion that marriage is an institution dreamed up by men to control women, there is not a shred of evidence that such is the case. Rather the partnership of a man and a woman seems to have come rather organically, as if by some deeper design, and through hard experience over countless generations as the best arrangement for survival, both for human beings individually and as a species. After trying different kinds of arrangements, reason led us to marriage as one man and one woman for life. Not everyone enjoys the same success, but on the whole across the whole human population through time, it’s proven good while other systems like polygamy, or the complete absence of any bond among men and women hasn’t done that well, and again those failed for rationally observable reasons. The Church says to then pursue these failed alternatives, knowing the truth of Christ’s teaching about what marriage is, is to sin.
Sin. Long before Jesus, long before Moses, long before Abraham, human beings have sensed the reality of sin. We have found across this planet ever more ancient temples that were places of sacrifice to the gods; with strong indication that these sacrifices were for our offences, our wrongdoing, our failure to do the right thing. That is, as Paul writes with respect to pagans, the law of God is written on our hearts. Pre-historic people, we know, had a sense of moral obligation to each other as evidenced in their burial practices. I wouldn’t be so ridiculous as to argue they had worked out a systematic theology of evil, or developed a comprehensive moral code. You really do need to have the technology of writing and reading to do that sort of thing. What they did have was a sense of accountability to something greater, and the rational capacity to figure out that the world was ordered according to some design, both physical and spiritual. Violate that design, or law, and there were real consequences: and not that the gods would strike you dead with a thunderbolt, but rather families and communities would fall apart, dissension grow, conflict erupt.
Why is stealing a sin?
You don’t have to be particularly clever to figure out what is apt to happen to a society where there is no respect for property and commerce.
I don’t know if you’ve been following all the craziness, but there are a considerable number of people who are arguing that stealing isn’t wrong when you do it as part of a riot. Many of you probably caught the story about the looting in Chicago on the Golden Mile, where people went to the riots with rented vans to fill them up with stolen goods. There were activists who were saying that it was alright because of past injustices, that this was a matter of social justice and the redistribution of wealth… and after all, the stores are insured.
However, even if you can for a minute accept any part of that rationale, consider the places in the world where rioting and looting are commonplace, where civil unrest makes running a small business a precarious undertaking; where business owners invest in private security who aren’t like the nice mall cops we’re used to, but rough men with big guns, and how the violence of looters is quickly compounded by the violence of shop owners protecting their livelihood.
It’s quite disturbing to realize there are educated people today who actually think you can set aside such a fundamental moral law and think that any good can come of it. This is our world now.
The proof of the validity of the concept of sin, that there is a wrong way to live is well evidenced.
And that really is what sin is about: to sin is to be doing it wrong willfully. It is incorrect living by choice, it is that which takes you away from authentic life that leads to God and into the fantasy that you can make up your own rules and succeed in life by your own measure.
God doesn’t punish us in this life, but he has us live out the real consequences of doing it wrong in the hope it brings us to make a change. Better yet, though, by having divine revelation, and tradition passed down within the Church and trust in God, we can just do it right from the start. And even better still, God provides us with a remedy for the sins we nonetheless commit in the person of Jesus Christ. But to benefit from our saviour’s sacrifice, you still have to admit there is sin, and that we sin, and that we need to ask for forgiveness for our particular sins made as individuals.
As the Church, that is, all of us, we must be watchmen. And our sight must be keen. We aren’t to taken in by kind words, nor are we merely to give lip service to virtue. Judge by what people do over what they say; look to your own manner of life and compare it to what you say you believe. There’s a great difference between speaking of justice and doing it; practicing virtue over just talking about it; excusing sin over advocating righteousness. In the difference we find our sins, real and in need of remedy through God’s forgiveness and in the grace to try again. We should not silence our conscience, but listen to Christ’s saving Word, and continue to offer that Word fearlessly to the world.
Links for additional reading:
No, the Woke won’t debate you. Here’s why.