Sunday 11 December 2011

What is it to live without sin? What is active evil?


I feel that the modern understanding of what it is to live without sin is mistaken.

This mistake means that the very worst sinners feel clean and pure, and react incredulously to any notion that they are faithful and diligent servants of evil such as have seldom been seen before on this earth. 


A man who lived without sin is not to be defined in terms of a man who objects all true and correct moral laws.

Rather, the man without sin is he who lives at all times in complete communion with God.


The correct understanding is only indirectly-related to the modern understanding of sin.

According to the modern understanding of sin, as breaking moral rules, the worst sinner is the one who breaks the most rules, or who breaks the most serious rules.

Therefore, for moderns virtue is measured in terms of behavior - that is in terms of objective, observable behaviour and how it corresponds to the laws of morality.


But the proper understanding of sin is mystical: to be sin-less is when the human soul is in continuous communication with God.

And by contrast, sin is not directly about behavior but about the soul being turned-away-from God, thereby by choice being cut-off from God - wholly concerned with the self.


Thus the meaning of Pride as the key sin - pride being the choice to prefer one's own will to God's will.


The modern secular Leftist elites do not perceive their own state of near-complete enthrallment to sin because they perceive themselves to be obedient to all the important laws of morality (especially after these moral laws have been revised and up-dated by people like themselves).

Modern secular Leftists do not recognize that their sin lies in the Pride of having turned away from God and trusting to themselves alone.

Indeed, modern secular Leftists perceive spiritually advanced Christians (including Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints) as sinful - insofar as they broken the rules of modern morality enshrined in political correctness.


This is a kind of ultimate in Pride: to set oneself in judgement over The Saints, the Mother of God and indeed God Himself.

Yet some of these people believe themselves to be Christians - and morally more 'advanced' than the Christians of the past!


We are (nearly) all sinners, humanity is wretched and (almost always) turned away from God and deep in Pride; yet sin is compounded, becomes active evil, when propagated deliberately, when propagandized, when subsidized, when enforced.

It is in this sense that the modern intellectual elites: politicians, bureaucrats and officials; lawyers; managers; journalists; teachers... are among the most evil people ever to have lived.

They not merely do evil impulsively, they not merely fail to discern evil, but strategically plan the triumph of evil - which they disguise from themselves and others by framing the world to exclude evil.

(By replacing evil with misery, they can do anything at all - so long as it can be rationalized as tending eventually, many steps down the line, to reduce the sum 'total' of misery.)

These modern creatures who rule the West (nothing like them has been seen before, except as isolated individuals or minute cults) are cut-off from God; they are nihilists (deniers of reality) and they zealously spread their disease.


They are so far gone that they find the idea of sin, of evil to be incomprehensible.

The reality of their own near-demonic state of sin is therefore literally incredible to them.

They lack the concepts to understand what they have become: because they have willfully-destroyed these concepts, and are now diligent agents of the destruction of these concepts in others.


It sounds bad: it is.

It sounds hopeless: it isn't.

I am describing my former self: repentance is possible no matter how far gone a person may be, it is never too late+.


+Strictly, never too late in this world; for so long as the choice can be framed and presented, it is never too late. Consider the 'Good' thief in Luke 23: 

39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
 40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
 41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
 42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.



CorkyAgain said...

In a remark that I've always treasured, Rabbi Heschel once said (and I'm sorry I can't find the exact quote right now) that it isn't so much that God is hidden from us as it is that we are hiding from God.

I agree, this turning away and hiding from God is the essence of sin, just as you say in your post.

Whether the moderns are more sinful than any previous generation, however, is something I still need to ponder.

That sin surrounds me and often -- I am ashamed to say -- enters into my own heart, is beyond question.

The Crow said...

Easy on there, Corky :)
Be thou not even as hard upon thyself as thou artest.
Be not ashamed of thyself, also. For thou art human, even in the eyes of God...

The only requirement is complete honesty.
All other virtue stems from this root.
If virtue is your thing.
Lacking honesty - true witness - sin follows as naturally as death follows life.
You heard it from a crow :)

Great article, Bruce.

Kristor said...

The modern moral calculus is utilitarian. That's why they are focused on reducing misery and increasing pleasure.

But utilitarianism is no good at all as a moral guide unless your heart is set on the achievement of the right things. If your desires are wicked, perverted, spoiled, then so is your utility function.

And it is not possible in practice to set your heart on just the right things unless you first love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Do that, with zero thought for anything else, and you may possibly find yourself aiming for the highest, best good. Then, and only then, can your utilitarian calculus or practical wisdom operate on good, true inputs, so that you may then behave well (i.e., truly well, rather than politely; it is likely that the truly moral person will outrage his fellows with his rebukes; even the mere presence of a righteous man is a rebuke to the wicked).

But this is nothing new. It's all in the Nicomachean Ethics.

It just occurred to me that there is a very old term for utilitarians who don't subject their desires to the Good: Sophists.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - that is the best encapsulation of the error of utilitarianism that has registered on my consciousness!

It also points at why ultilitarianism, in practice, is actually the legal-bureaucratic-propagandistic implementation of the 'right things' as defined according to an elite.

In other words the elite discover what the elite desire, define this as wholesome, and try to construct a society which gratifies such desires optimally.

Gyan said...

It is not even
necessarily late after death.
For example, the medieval story of Emperor Trajan 's resurrection and baptism (as recounted by Dante),

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - maybe, we don't really know - from the Orthodox Saints it seems that a decision must be made shortly after death, but what Time means after death is hard to imagine.

On the other hand, clearly this human life on earth has a purpose, a meaning; and some things must happen here, or in relation to what we do here - incarnate and in mortal form, that have major and presumably permanent consequences.

Kristor said...

Utlilitariansim simpliciter can work, on the supposition that man is not Fallen, so that his utility function is not perverted. The utilitarianism of Mills, then, presupposes Rousseauvianism.

But Rousseau was wrong. Man is fallen. Utilitarianism can still work, but only for saints, who have been redeemed, and have not relapsed into sin. I.e., it can't work very often.

Utilitarianism practised by unredeemed or unrepentant or lapsed sinners is chock full of perverted good intentions, and is leading straight to Hell.

May God save us from our good intentions. I sometimes think that when we pray, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," what we are really praying is, "lead us not into [our own] good intentions." After all, we begin the prayer by willing that the Lord's will be done - not ours.

All this is as true for plebeians as it is for elites and bureaucrats. There is no social order, howsoever virtuous and traditional and orthodox and suffused with high and noble spirituality, that is not wholly, utterly beset by this predicament.

How I wish my own utility function was not so whacked!

Kristor said...

Bruce writes:

... for moderns virtue is measured in terms of behavior - that is in terms of objective, observable behaviour and how it corresponds to the laws of morality.

So, in other words, PC is the modern version, not just of Sophistry, but of Pharisaical Sophistry. It's wickedness squared!

GFC said...

Dr. Charlton,

Excellent post - thank you for that, a pity summation of the novelty of our current situation. There has always been wickedness; but never before the 20th century have we seen systematic, purposeful wickedness like this (though a foretaste of it in the French Revolution, surely).

Gyan - by all means we must pray for the dead but post-mortem conversions are a very perilous strategy to ensure one's salvation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GFC - thanks (I know you mean 'pithy')

When I pray for the dead (which as a catholic - Anglo - I do a lot), I often have it in mind that these prayers are retroactive, and operate at (or just after) the 'moment' of death to 'help' the soul to make the correct decision when offered the choice of dwellings for the disembodied soul.

(Eastern Orthodoxy teaches - as I understand it - that this post-mortem choice of the disembodied soul is the first judgment, which will be superseded by the final judgment when the soul is resurrected with a perfected body.)