Saturday 18 November 2023

Why are the commonest sins neglected? Because they are socially-approved

The spiritual war is fought in public over whether the 'sins' of mainstream, totalitarian leftist-materialism ought to be regarded as primary (e.g. racism, sexism' climate- or peck-denialism...); or whether instead the traditional Christian sins such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness etc.) ought to be the major focus. 

(The mainstream has the advantage in this dispute because they deny that the Christian sins are sinful at all, but rather virtues; while the self-identified Christians usually agree with the totalitarian left that attitudes such as racism, sexism, and -denialism are indeed sins - and will, for example - routinely and officially exclude leaders who disagree with any of the mainstream leftist definitions of 'sin'.) 

My usual list of the most dominating sins of this time and place includes fear, resentment, dishonesty and despair. 

But these are - at best - almost completely neglected by Christian teaching - which continues to focus on more traditional (and spectacular!) sins of a sexual nature; or sins that are (at least officially) still against the law: things like murder, rape, theft etc. 

Such a focus has the unfortunate (but probably deliberate) effect of creating and sustaining "Pharisaism" among Christians, which I would here define as the belief that sin can be avoided - with enough effort

Well, yes! Spectacular sins can indeed be avoided. And avoiding these is made much easier by the fact that they are socially dis-approved, and if detected they will be punished. 

But my understanding is that Jesus said this was not only insufficient, but a harmful attitude to life. 

Sin, as such, is so pervasive in the human condition as to be unavoidable; and the belief that sin can be avoided leads to what Jesus termed 'hypocrisy' - that is, to assumptions of purity and authority on the basis of being (at least publicly) able to avoid a few extreme and spectacular sins; while neglecting the far more frequent, but equally in need of repentance, sins of everyday life - such as dishonesty.

Did you murder anyone yesterday? Probably not. And, if you did, you probably repent it. 

But were you dishonest yesterday? Yes You Were! And probably dozens, maybe hundreds of times; especially if you are a manager or a professional or any kind of leader. 

Indeed, most middle class people are dishonest as an essential (and growing) element of their job: they are strategically, calculatedly dishonest for-a-living.  

Did you repent these dishonesties - did you even notice them at all? Even worse - do you regard yourself as a truthful person, and deny that you were and are dishonest? 

Sins such as dishonesty are un-noticed and therefore un-repented because they are socially-approved, and often socially rewarded: 

Back in 2020-2021; we were all socially expected to fear the birdemic - and anyone who did not express sufficient fear was regarded as a danger to public health. 

Resentment is the motivational basis of antiracism, feminism, socialism and many other leftist ideologies (and several actually-left but supposedly-right ideologies such as nationalism); and nowadays such resentment (whether personal, or vicariously expressed 'on behalf of' the 'oppressed') is mandatory in public discourse. 

A manager and a politician is rewarded for dishonesty (e.g. calculated misleading, untruthfulness and indeed lying - if lies effective and deniable); and will be sacked if he refuses. Much the same applies to scientists, doctors, lawyers, church leaders, economists, the police and military... essentially it applies everybody in leadership or 'expert' positions in major social institutions. 

My point here - which I think was also Jesus's point in His teaching - is that we sin all the time, and deliberately - and we have no intention of ceasing to sin when those sins are socially-allowed/ mandatory; because to do so would put us out of a job, and exclude us from human society. 

Fortunately (!); Jesus came to save sinners, and not those (non-existent) persons who are sin-less.  

Jesus asks 'merely' that we acknowledge that we sin all the time, and cannot (indeed we do not wish to) stop sinning: and 'yet' these and we are exactly those who Jesus can and will save... So long as we are prepared to acknowledge and repent the fact.  

How does this fit with salvation? Well, in the Fourth Gospel ("John") the word "sin" is mostly used to mean "death" - that is, death without resurrection, death without salvation. 

Resurrection (i.e. eternal life, instead of death) depends on what we can call repentance, not on ceasing to sin. 

And repentance is necessary to salvation because resurrection requires that we are prepared to acknowledge sin as sin, and leave it behind us before we can proceed to eternal life in Heaven. After all, Heaven would not be Heaven if sin was still present - there can be no sin in Heaven; but we are all sinful, nearly all the time; therefore we must reject All sin before we can be resurrected into Heaven.

Repentance can therefore be thought of as the firm intent to leave-behind all sin (spectacular and unnoticed) when the choice and chance of resurrection comes to us (presumably, after death), and when all such sins shall be brought to our attention*. 

To "follow Jesus" means to repent all our sins. And it is those sins that are socially un-recognized, denied, or rewarded which are far less likely to be repented than the big and obvious sins on which nearly-everybody is agreed.   

*We cannot, of course, recognize all our individual sins during this mortal life - there are too many, and we lack sufficient discernment! But we can avoid falling into the damnation-trap of denying sin, especially when it is brought to our awareness. That way, when we come to the point of decision, we will not be held back from salvation by our habitual, ingrained and calculated unwillingness to let-go of 'the least of' our sins. For instance; someone who has spent forty years 'justifying' his own deliberate dishonesties in the workplace; may find it very difficult to acknowledge that dishonesty Must utterly and forever be repudiated in Heaven. 


Mia said...

I expect to be confronted with 100% of my sins after death at the moment of choice, and thinking about what that will likely feel like, it perhaps sheds light on some of the harder-to-explain aspects of mortal life: the length of it, the pain of aging, the frequency of prolonged illness. These may prepare the soul for the "sin replay" in the way that you (or at least I and I assume others) cycle through emotions when confronted with adversity (a la stages of grief).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mia - "I expect to be confronted with 100% of my sins after death" I can't imagine any way that that is possible.

In a sense there are not a particular number of sins, because life isn't divided up in that kind of unitary way - the problem is rather than we are not fully aligned with "God's will" of the divinity of creation, so that we do not life in harmony with the creative plan. Sometimes we do come into harmony, but inevitably soon drift off course soon.

So I see things the other way around, almost. What we are confronted-with is the choice of whether to follow Jesus, and be admitted to Heaven -- on condition of leaving behind anything about us that is inconsistent with that reality.

One who loves Jesus, and loves God, *enough* (a Saint, perhaps), or even one who desires to be in Heaven unconditionally because of those deceased that he loved and who love him who are already there (and I think that contact with the beloved dead will be apparent at that point) - such people will make that decision For Heaven quite easily.

But others may find that there is some particular "thing" about himself that he is reluctant to "give up", some "blockage" that stops him from making the choice of Heaven.

Then a particular choice may arise that corresponds to a particular and specific "sin" in the more traditional sense: we are confronted with the need to repent that which blocks our access to Heaven - and it will be clear that we must give up that part of ourselves if we are to live eternally "in Love".

This was, for me, helpfully depicted in CS Lewis's The Great Divorce.