May 1, 2006


I am not Catholic, but I have been mulling over this whole idea of "sin" for sometime. I argued that conservative Christians have thrown over the Catholic idea of the 7 Deadly Sins (you know, greed, envy, wrath, pride, gluttony, sloth, lust) in favor of the 10 Commandments (Thou shall not...). The reason seemed apparent to me. The more catholic idea of sin resonated with every last person. We all grapple with the above sins--hell our entire advertising industry is based on most of them. Wait,... all. You know--the ads that encourage you to covet your neighbor's wife, car, house, income if they aren't encouraging you to consume to be more leisurely or beautiful...

But the 10 Commandments are relatively easy for the average Christian--at least how the society has internalized them. More about murder and adultery--more about what other people do. Less about those internal weaknesses that we all share and fight. Less about our desire to feed self.

In conversations with my Texas friend, this has broken down on my basic argument that conservatives have redefined sin to focus on the sexual--leaving the average, boring, suburbanite church-goer almost sinless. Greed and wealth have been redefined so they don't qualify. He disagrees with me--and says that the Bible is clear on homosexuality and other sexual sins, while the other sins are harder to define.

It finally dawned on me. It isn't that conservatives (or the mainstream church, for that matter) have decided that these other things aren't sins--but rather that they have repositioned how they are determined as "sin." Some of them are personal, and some are corporate. From the conservative perspective, sexual sins are corporately determined. But sins of wealth are personally defined--the deciding issue is "does it come between you and God," or does it "come between you and your personal relationship with Christ." See the difference? If you are gay or having an abortion, you are sinning and the ruling is clear. If you are greedy, then it is up to you. You alone get to decide if your pursuit of money interferes with your relationship with God. So, if you say it doesn't, that story is closed. It doesn't matter how wealthy you are, or how opulent your home is, or how big your SUV is--if you say that it is not a problem, then it isn't a sin--end of story. It is the suburban church-goer's dream--everything that makes the suburban lifestyle is completely up to you.

But clearly, other sins are not given the same leeway. No one says to the gay person, "well, it is really between you and God. It is only a problem if your homosexuality comes between you and God." No one extends the personal decision to the young woman seeking an abortion. Their sin is determined by the group. You can be stinking rich and never be questioned.

Sin becomes something that other people do. How convenient is that?


Bootleg Blogger said...

Great post! I wrote a long comment and then felt bad about how long it got so I posted it over at my blog, The Bootleg Blogger in case you're interested. In it I reference a great article you would enjoy if you haven't read it yet, Homosexuality and the Bible by Walter Wink

Mike Kear said...

Outstanding questions and observations, Streak! We've been bantering this same issue about over at The Emmaus Theory. I really like the way you approach the idea of "repositioned" sins based on the supposed and quite ambiguous idea of the "interference" of our relationship with God.

"The suburban church-goer's dream" indeed!



Alice Clay said...

I've been thinking about this same thing as well. I believe that conservatives emphasize homosexuality and abortion because these are sins that they don't practice. Thus they can rail against them all day and feel superior. Not to mention all the money they will rake in from folks who listen to them and support their "ministries" as they crusade against that which would destroy our society.

But yeah, I think you're on to something about what is decided personally and corporately. And maybe that's the problem. Maybe we can't hear the "still, small voice of God" while we're railing against the sins of others. Maybe we should police each other less and self-focus more.