Summary: Sermon 1 in a series on Vice and Virtue
Deadly Sins and Transforming Virtues Series - 1
What Ever Happened to Sin?
In a blog written a couple of years ago, William Bradshaw asked a question that is stuck in my mind -
What ever happened to sin? He repeated a story originally told by Dr. Karl Menninger, a psychiatrist who pioneered many of our modern mental health treatment practices. Menninger Clinic is in Topeka, KS, and the following is true -
“On a sunny day in September, 1972, a stern-faced, plainly dressed man could be seen standing still on a street corner in the busy Chicago Loop. As pedestrians hurried by on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm, and pointing to the person nearest him, intone loudly the single word ‘GUILTY!’
Then, without any change of expression, he would resume his still stance for a few moments before repeating the gesture. Then, again, the inexorable raising of his arm, the pointing, and the solemn pronouncing of the one word ‘GUILTY!’
The effect of this strange accusatory pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again; then hurriedly continue on their ways.
One man, turning to another who was my informant, exclaimed: ‘But how did he know?’
Somehow we all know we could live better than we do, many of feeling some level of guilt, but as Americans we are mostly without a vocabulary to talk about that guilt and/or feeling of shame. Why?
Bradshaw goes to write -
“Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church taught that people were guilty of sin and needed to repent, up until the second quarter of the 20th century, when Protestantism began putting less emphasis on sin and the negatives of the Christian Faith and concentrating on the positives. In the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale, famed minister of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, concentrated on the power of positive thinking, which became the title of his best-selling blockbuster.
Peale asserted that by concentrating on the positive things of life one could overcome the many fears of failure and develop the self-confidence needed to capitalize on his/her true God given talents and achieve success. He was criticized by many theologians and medical doctors for preaching false hope, but he was enormously popular. He was followed by Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California. Gradually, mainline Protestantism concentrated only on the positive aspects of the Christian Faith.”
Mention the word ‘sin’ outside of more conservative churches and watch the reaction.
Some will be amused at your old-fashioned idea.
Some will quickly deflect, agreeing that there are a few grosser practices - human sex slavery, terrorism, child abuse ... for example- worthy of the word but they just as quickly will insist that their own failing are not sin!
We live in a world where evil is very real, where suffering splashes onto our TV screens in living color - brutal war on civilians, grinding poverty that makes people do desperate things, corruption that enslaves millions, religious terrorism that kills indiscriminately on city streets, child abuse that scars for life, gun violence right here in good old America, with shootings happening even in suburban schools in upscale neighborhoods and on beautiful college campuses. On top of that, we have crowded prisons, a drug abuse crisis that kills thousands annually, and increasing numbers of fatherless kids.
We know the ills, for nothing I have pointed out is news to anyone of us...
but yet the majority of Americans cannot or will not say the word ‘sin.’
I cannot speak of the rest of the world because I do not know the social norms outside of my country. However, it is not inaccurate nor and exaggeration to say that the majority of Americans not only reject the idea of ‘sin,’ they are increasing hostile towards those who believe in moral absolutes.
· It is laughable in our culture to say that greed or materialism is a sin as both are considered marks of success by most people.
· If we say that divorce, in most cases, is a sin we are seen as out of touch, or as naive fools. You may even be offended, wondering how I could be so judgmental!
· When we declare that sex outside of marriage is sinful, we invite ridicule, or at least a strange look as if we belonged to another century.
· If we insist the marriage of persons of the same sex is a choice that is outside of God’s will, we are likely to be labeled ignorant, and probably a hateful bigot.
· When we say that drunkenness or drug addiction is a sin, we raise the ire of those who quickly correct us to insist that both are ‘sickness.’