<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Rollins Happy New Year, Ye Fellow Sinners

Happy New Year, Ye Fellow Sinners


“Sin doesn’t usually end suddenly; it usually ends through a long-term communal effort. There are no magic wands that can be waved, no sudden conversions from sinfulness to sinlessness; it takes time and effort ... It would seem that the greater the magnitude of the sin, and the more people who are involved, the longer it will take to end sin.” (Rev. Daniel Harper)

In perhaps the most thorough treatise on sin to emerge in this young century (Sin: A History, 2009) educator and author Gary Anderson traces the concept from its roots to its modern applications.

Turns out sin got its start as a means to describe physical, not moral maladies: the ancients used sin as code for bodily illness, injury and aging – burdens of the temporal not eternal variety.

But somewhere between Aphrodite and Adam sin took on a shadowy hue, becoming baleful, personal and freighted with moral proscriptions best evidenced by the thou-shall-not ethos of the Ten Commandments. Thus sin became a debt owed and a trespass against conscience: We will no longer seek salvation from our anxieties, but who we are and what we do.

This epic tack toward a more personal understanding of sin is shot through Western civilization; from religion to art, psychology to literature, education to politics.

Anderson’s deconstructionist approach is helpful in tracing this evolution and its consequences; but he mostly leaves the rest to his readers.

Anderson’s own Judeo-Christian orientation and “debt owed” thesis are an obvious fit for those who conceive of sin in the context of “personal salvation”, be they biblically-based evangelicals or metaphorically-minded Jungians.

Others a la Dr. King (and by my lights Jesus himself) may read “Sin” and be fortified in their mission to confront our (humanity’s) penchant for unchecked greed and systemic ruthlessness.

And to our painful good, there are those who wax prophetic when contemplating sin, calling us to account for our evildoing at its most heinous worst: the wars we wage on one another.

Whatever one’s take on the topic, an appeal to parse sin is hardly an uplifting way to begin a new year. We’ve enough on our plates, what with a deeply divided republic and a gridlocked government that would flat out embarrass the Founders in whose names the legislative lunacy is so often invoked.

And as evidenced by the proliferation of reality shows and conservatives in the US Congress, America is not leading the planet in critical self-reflection right now, let alone taking stock of its most glaring moral shortcomings. But the fallen prophet and fellow progressive whose birthday we will soon mark held out for just that kind of awareness, counseling there is no greater sin than refusing to think and “...nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

In this new year, as perhaps never before, the nation can ill afford to continue its blitheness in the face of its mistaken ways. (See Dick Cheney on the subject of torture.)

The second step is to own those sins. The first is to see them.

Don Rollins is a juvenile court program coordinator and Unitarian Universalist minister. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2015


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