Friday 9 February 2024

Sins and repentance - (properly understood) an easy problem, and simply solvable

The main problem of the modern West is the inversion of sin; which is that the traditional sins (especially sexual, but also pride, envy, greed etc.) are not sins, but instead virtues. 

And the reciprocal invention of new "deadly sins" that are not sins, such as (the actual current usage of) racism (seemingly now regarded as the sin of sins - unless the recognition of traditional sexual sins as sin, is even worse). 

But value-inversion is made worse by a legalistic understanding of sin, in terms of categorical lists with operational definitions. This is literal rending of sins is necessary if any "sin" is to be made the basis of our totalitarian System.  

For example; the not-sin of racism is a specific concept referenced in bureaucratic strategies, regulations and laws - operationally defined in measureable terms; such as specific words, or percentages of personnel (pre-divided into good/ disapproved and bad/ being-promoted races); and by mandatory active participation in defined antiracist initiatives and actions (e.g. mass genuflecting, parades and speeches, display of posters and flags etc.). 

So, although the not-sin of racism is supposed to be a thought-crime, a wicked motivation; in practice it gets operationalized in quasi-objective terms: you are guilty of racism by saying or writing this taboo, or by failing to join with that ritual, or in terms of percentage "representation". 

In strategic spiritual terms; this legalism and literalism represents the reduction of (imperceptible) spiritual conceptualizations of sin, into a controllable material manifestation; in a world where official and public discourse recognizes only "the material" as real and significant. 

By the sustained operations of actual social reality; the populace are trained to regard the legal and bureaucratic definitions of detectable and measurable material manifestations of sin, asif they Just Are the sins themselves. 

In other words; because society treats sin legalistically and objectively in categories; that is how people habitually, unthinkingly, moralistically regard the reality of sin. 


Of course; what I have described as the current materialist-totalitarian reality of values; is a simple inversion of the old religious system of values, which was dominant from the medieval era until recently - which also regards sin in a legalistic and categorical way. 

Sins were conceptualized in terms of categorical lists of behaviours that would send someone to hell, unless he specifically repented each of them. Repentance was often understood as going through the entire list of one's sins, and repenting them each and specifically - before being allowed-into Heaven. 

(I find it bizarre to suppose that the whole world of creation and our-selves can thus be cut-up into discrete chunks, some of which are sins! My understanding is instead that reality is only validly divided into separable Beings; but sins are part of the continuous field of divine creation - they can be distinguished in terms of emphasis, but cannot ultimately be separated and divided.)  

Such a linear and sequential procedure of repentance might need to be done during mortal life (e.g. by confession and absolution) or afterwards (for instance in a Roman Catholic purgatory, or the "toll-booths" of Eastern Orthodoxy).

In practice; such a way of thinking and behaving was so dominant that people also came to believe that only these categories of official sins were real or significant sins. 

Consequently; many of the besetting sins of modernity - such as dishonesty, existential fear, and resentment - became invisible, ignored, denied. 

So that habitual and expedient exponents of untruthfulness (such as nearly-all modern managers, politicians, bureaucrats; and professionals such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, the police and military, and church leaders); will mislead, be dishonest, and outright lie systematically and for-a-living - on a daily, or even hourly, basis - while having a clear conscience! While regarding themselves as good-people, including Good and exemplary Christians. 

One side-effect of this categorical way of thinking about sin has been that people come to regard themselves and others as not-sinners (and other people as sinners) - the world of Mankind being divided into sinners and the Good. 

Such people regard themselves as basically good human beings; so long as they refrain from the listed sins (or the worst of them, at least) - or else repent them specifically. This leads to a sense of self-righteousness that is a gross distortion of the realities of our mortal life. 

On the other hand; the ubiquity of some of the listed sins can lead to a sense of despair and helplessness; and other people react-against this by asserting that if a sin is universal, or very common - then it can't really be a sin! - and is simply being used by religion to control the population. 

This also applies to modern value-inversion - for instance when white people are officially regarded and regard themselves as inescapably racist, and therefore experience inescapable white guilt - rendering them demoralized and obedient to those who offer rituals of expiation.


My point is that - from the Fourth Gospel Christian perspective which I believe is true - legalism and categorical description is a basically mistaken and itself-sinful way of thinking about and conceptualizing sin. 

From Jesus's teaching, we are all sinners all of the time; because we are not wholly-and-always motivated by Love. We are thereby misaligned with God's creative will, hence all of us (as we are) are utterly unsuited to dwell in Heaven. 

But this is Not a cause for demoralization, demotivation or despair; because Jesus has said that all who follow Him shall be resurrected to eternal life in Heaven.

The best way to think of sin is very generally; as whatever would prevent us (as individuals) from accepting the gift of everlasting life. 

We may each have one or more besetting sins that we find difficult (or impossible) to give-up in order to enter Heaven - but this is ultimately a matter of not loving Jesus enough, not wanting Heaven enough. 

If we love and desire above all to follow Jesus Christ; if we take the side of God and divine creation in the spiritual war, and wish to participate in creation eternally - then quite naturally we will repent, shed, leave-behind any and all sins (named or unnamed) in order to attain our deepest desire. 

If we desire to be re-made (i.e. resurrected) such that we become motivated only and always by love eternally - then sin is just the name for anything and everything which would prevent that process of re-making. 

Repentance is the word for our agreement to having stripped-away and left-behind all that would otherwise prevent resurrection into Heaven.  

It is really very simple. 

Christianity is a positive (not double-negative) religion; it is opt-in (not a matter of passing a test); God is our loving parents (not a judge administering laws), Christianity is a family (not a monarchy). 

We are not meant to worry over sin! Jesus came to save sinners - we need to focus primarily on the saving, not the sins: we will know the sins in consequence of our desire for salvation. 

If we understand Jesus's teaching in the way it was intended and exemplified (and which can be confirmed here-and-now by the guidance of the Holy Ghost); 

and if we therefore base our faith on positive love and the choice of following Jesus Christ to Heaven -- 

then we know that everything important about "our sins" will be recognizable clearly and simply, and we will know what to do, and we will do it - when the time of choice arrives. 


Francis Berger said...

Bruce, you've addressed repentance/sin many times, but I appreciate your tackling it here once again because it is absolutely vital. And what you have noted here is spot on. I attempted to do the same by drawing upon Wm Jas's excellent, "What is Repentance, Then?", because it strikes me that for many (most?) Christians, repentance remains a hard nut to crack.

Perhaps it's useful to remind ourselves that the spiritual war is not about the sinless versus the sinners. Sinners comprise both sides of the spiritual war, and it is chiefly repentance that distinguishes one side from the other.

Yet people seem to be terrified of repenting. They needlessly agonize over it. They seem to equate repenting with being branded a sinner and appear willing to do anything to make excuses to not repent, which usually involves qualifying some aspect of well-known sin as not-sin when, in reality, we aren't even remotely aware of the many sins we commit on a daily basis.

David Earle said...

> Bruce, you've addressed repentance/sin many times, but I appreciate your tackling it here once again because it is absolutely vital. And what you have noted here is spot on.

Seconded. After reading Berger's recent thoughts on the subject it prompted me to start putting together another "video" on Sin and Repentance as there are many thoughts and arguments I've not heard articulated elsewhere.

Thanks for these additional clarifications.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - It's one of those areas in which both sides - leftist-atheist-materialist and traditional Christian - are wrong; and where a better answer must be clear and simple rather than complex and "nuanced" - so I keep trying to find better ways of saying it.

The trad problem of double-negative theology is not going to fly - we must organize Christianity around the positive; and from that position then define sins.

However, the prevalent legalism/ literalism (Pharisee-ism) among trad Christians; tries to put "the cart" of sin, in front of "the horse" of resurrection. e.g. by fantasizing about how Christian laws might make The West (or a particular nation) a Christian society again.

But the spiritual war is not symmetrical. What works for the evil-left, does not work for the Christians; and if we try to use leftist strategies and tactics (Boromir's idea of using the One Ring against Sauron), we just reinforce and strengthen the left-materialist-demons.

From where we are now; more and stronger bad laws imposed top-down Do make The West more evil; but more and stronger "Christian" laws would Not make The West more good (as ought to be obvious, by now).

Christianity of the people must come before Christian laws. There is no shortcut.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks David!

Jacob Gittes said...

Thanks for this - very thoughtful.