Friday, March 6, 2009

On Sin

I thought this  was an interesting post over at BlogHer.

As a general rule, I rarely think about the subject of sin. Frankly, I think most commentaries on the subject are ridiculous, and the over emphasis on sin and evil in evangelical preaching robs Christianity of most of its beauty and power.  Nevertheless, I take sin seriously (you can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take the Catholic Church out of the girl if she's been properly indoctrinated).  I define sin as "that which disrupts our direct relationship with The Holy." [I'm pretty sure that wasn't in the Baltimore Catechism, but I like it.] I agree with the church that there is a wide range of sin, from the venality of being rude to mortal acts of rape and murder and even egregious, unforgivable acts involving mass killings and/or potential destruction of our planet-home (such as the September 11 attack or nuclear war).

MataH and the commenters are very lathered up about the Vatican's ridiculous findings that men and women sin differently.  First of all, the conclusions drawn by the Vatican "investigator" are wrong.  And inconsistent. And stupid.  But, then, that's typical for pronouncements from the Vatican.  I try only to get my panties in a twist when the Vatican says something that could actually be damaging to some god's children.  This doesn't rise to that level. It's just an ignorant statement.  It can and should be ignored.

Moreover, I am not bothered by the proposition that men and women have tendencies to sin differently.  There are exceptions but, for years I've taken it for granted that men and women tend toward having different faults. At some point years ago, I read an article in a theological journal (I do not recall which one or who the author may have been)  that offered the hypothesis that men's sins were directed at other people and women's sins were directed at themselves.  I started paying attention to news articles and articles on psychology as well as the behavior of the people around me. I have come to agree with that article: there are two basic sinning "types". They appear generally to follow gender lines, but depending on personality and station in life, men and women fall on both sides of the line (just as both men and women fall into the category of "nurturing" and "violent", although more women could be described as the former and more men the latter).

With that huge caveat, this is my take on the different ways in which men and women  sin. Men's sins tend to be other-directed. They involve violence, oppression and violations of others' rights, property and persons.  Women's sins tend to be self-directed.  Maybe this has its roots in patriarchy, where men went out into the marketplace and were engaged in business and politics and women stayed at home to manage the household and care for the children.  As women's roles have changed, the line has blurred but it is still there.

Men (or, perhaps better, Type-A people of either gender who have some sense of power) are prone to lust (lust for sex, but even more lust for power, money, prestige, etc.). I think lust satisfied a little bit  breeds greed and gluttony (the latter of which includes not only eating too much but  taking more than you need of anything).  

Women (or, better, Type-D people of either gender who fear change) are given to envy (which I believe is the source of female cattiness and that appalling tendency women have to stab each other in the back for no good reason whatsoever). Envy unsatisfied leads to wrath (including self-loathing that leads to all kind of self-destructive and/or passive aggressive behaviors) and to sloth (which is what depression can look like from the outside).  As the economy spirals downward, the incidence of depression and self-destruction appears to be increasing exponentially -- at least if the number advertisements for anti-depressants and news pieces on depression is any indication.  Perhaps this kind of sinning is becoming more common for people of both genders. 

Perhaps the trigger for the way a person will sin has more to do with how much power he or she owns (or perceive they own) than gender or any other single factor.  People with power wield it. People without power want to get it.  Original sin, in Christian theology, is supposed to have been about Eve's grasping for the knowledge of good and evil to achieve godlike power.

Clearly, both men and women sin in both ways. I think Americans have a particular propensity to the lust/greed/gluttony triad due to the fact that we are so richly blessed and tend to have so much power and material wealth in the first place. We have more material possessions than most people, but, instead of being satisfied, we want more. We take more than we need. We hoard what we have.  We don't share well. If anything, I think this thesis is proved by the exceptions:  there are many Americans who live simple lives of self-sacrifice, but  they have to overcome huge cultural obstacles in order to live in the way they are called.  

What's missing from this picture?  Pride.  Personally, I think Pride is not a sin at all. I think pride is a virtue. Pride (as opposed to vanity or arrogance) is a good thing.  When we take pride in our work, we do a better job. When we take pride in our bodies and our homes we take better care of them.  When we take pride in our country we are willing to do the hard work to make it a good place to raise our children.  When we take pride in our very own place in Creation, understanding ourselves to be participants in the holy act of Creation, we will know ourselves to be possessed of truly godly (godly, not godlike) power. Therefore, we have no need for lust, greed, gluttony, envy, wrath or sloth.  

If we understand ourselves to be participants in the Holy (meaning "dedicated to the service and worship of God"), we have no need to dominate others nor will we have any desire to harm ourselves, because we will cherish ourselves, others and the very earth itself. 

St. Augustine gave us a pithy short cut  around all the volumes of theology, "Love God and do as you please."  Jesus put a slightly different spin on that same idea, when he said, "Love God ... and your neighbor as yourself."   I think pride has to come before love.  To love passionately and powerfully, we have to have pride and self-confidence. Otherwise, love ends up as neediness and manipulation (which is all too common in our culture).

That's the blessing; here's the curse: pride taken to the point of vanity, the point at which we believe ourselves to be "Special" puts us right back at risk of falling into lust (for more Specialness) or envy (because we perceive someone else to be more Special than we are). 

The sweet spot is fitting into our place and understanding that we already have all the power and blessing we will ever need. (See the story of Jacob on that subject.) It is not Pride that goeth before the fall. Pride builds us up and makes us whole and right with our deepest Calling.  Vanity is the the tipping point at which we start sliding toward trouble.

I always wondered why the church held out Pride as the worst of the Seven Deadlies. Turns out that it may not be a sin at all. In fact, it could be a portal to perfect freedom, including freedom from religion itself.  Naturally, the Church, in its self-protective mode, needed to do everything it could to close off that exit, so it turned pride into the most serious of the Deadly Sins.  

None of that negates the fact that actions which in any way denigrate, degrade or oppress any part of Creation, denigrate, degrade and oppress all of it. Those are sinful acts, regardless of whether one is an adherent of Christianity or any other religion... or male/female, Jew/Gentile, slave/free, gay/straight, or any other combination one might care to add.

The important thing is not who commits what kinds of sins. The important thing is the we all are prone, in different ways, to sabotage our relationship with the Holy and with other parts of Creation.  That may be the true Original Sin that affects us all.  It doesn't matter how we sin. We all do it.  Whether our sins are directed at others or at ourselves, they violate the sanctity of Creation.


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