Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sin, Freedom, and Toy Monkeys

In my youth, up-to-date ways to describe people doing bad things included 'maladjusted,' 'neurotic,' or 'anti-social.' In some circles, it was 'judgmental' to call what people did 'evil.'

Given how obnoxious the 'everything I don't like is Satanic' crowd was, I can see how using words like "evil" or "sin" got a bad  reputation. I've discussed malignant virtue, and how it affected my conversion to Catholicism, before.

Evil: Hard to Ignore; Difficult to Explain

No matter what it's called, evil is hard to ignore. It can also be hard to understand why God would allow evil to exist. One of the more sensible discussions of this question that I've run into was in - of all things - a comedy-adventure movie from the early '80s:
"Yes, why does there have to be evil?"

Supreme Being:
"I think it has something to do with free will."
("Time Bandits" (1981) via
I enjoyed "Time Bandits," and agree with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' review:
"...Directed by Terry Gilliam, it is sometimes amusing and always intelligent, but its appeal for youngsters is spoiled by typical Monty Python vulgarities and black humor, some of it violent...."
("Time Bandits" (1981) Catholic News Service Media Review Office)
Let's see: where was I?

Evil; free will; Monty Python. Right.

Evil, Grace, and Getting a Grip

"God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil. Where does evil come from? 'I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution,' said St. Augustine,257 and his own painful quest would only be resolved by his conversion to the living God. For 'the mystery of lawlessness' is clarified only in the light of the 'mystery of our religion.'258 The revelation of divine love in Christ manifested at the same time the extent of evil and the superabundance of grace.259 We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.260"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 385)
I'd like to completely explain the "mystery of lawlessness" and the "mystery of our religion." I like to understand things, and explain what I've learned. But at some point, I have to acknowledge that God's God, and I'm not:
"If you understood him, it would not be God"
(Catechism, 230)
Footnotes in Catechism, 385, refer to parts of Sacred Scripture:
I could go cherry picking in those Bible verses, get clever, and claim that the Bible tells us to sin for all we're worth: so that Grace could abound. That's daft, and I really do not need that kind of trouble. I've posted about particular judgment the Final Judgment before.

Sin, Free Will, and Toy Monkeys

Image of a musical jolly chimp manufactured the Japanese company, Daishin C.K. (Green tag on its left arm is an imitation) (May 18, 2012) Photograph by YuMaNuMa, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.I gather that one of our functions is to sing praise to God. (Psalms 47:7) Since God made us with free will, we can decide to do so. Or we can decide to ignore God.

I suppose God could have made creatures that were hardwired to go through the motions of singing praise to their Creator: and make better music than any human choir. But as praise, that music would be as meaningful as what happens when we wind up a toy monkey.

On the whole, I'm glad that God made it possible for me to make decisions: and for those decisions to make a difference. I don't have anything against wind-up monkeys: but I'd rather not be one.

"The Reality of Sin"

As a practicing Catholic, I have to believe that sin is real. But that doesn't mean I believe human beings are evil to the core and getting punished for being the way God made us. Seriously: that notion's just plain crazy.

As nearly as I can tell, the Church tells us that we're responsible for our actions: not that God is a bungling sadist. Remember, I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog," but I'm about as sure as I can be about that.

Here's part of what the Church says about sin:
"Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity's rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.

"Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind's origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God's plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another."
(Catechism, 386-387)

Freedom, Sin, and Love

In my 'good old days,' a remarkable number of folks seemed convinced that "sin" was enjoying the "wrong" kind of music, having the "wrong" haircut, or wearing the wrong clothing. That, in my considered opinion, was silly.

Worse, I think the 'be like me or be damned' attitude encouraged others to see "sin" as personal preference inflated to divine proportions.

But if "sin" isn't a failure to follow the mores of some particular American subculture, what is it? Here's the last sentence in that bit from the Catechism, again:
"...Only in the knowledge of God's plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another."
(Catechism, 387) [emphasis mine]
The rules are basically simple:
I can decide to love God, and love my neighbor: or I can abuse the freedom God gives, and not love.

It sounds simple, and in some ways it is. But that sort of love is not easy.

Related posts:


Brigid said...

Editing artifact? "I couldFootnotes in Catechism, 385, refer to parts"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Editing artifact!!

Oops, and *how* could I have missed that? Fixed, and thanks!

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