Sunday, April 14, 2013

Guilt and Group Discounts

"Sinner" can mean quite a few things. Depending on who's saying it, "sinners" can mean people who:
I am a sinner. I also enjoy living. That's not what makes me a sinner. I put definitions of sin, and a few links, at the end of this post.

Pleasure, Reason, and Balance

I spent my youth in the '60s, when American culture changed: a lot. Some of the changes were long-overdue corrections. Others didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. I gave part of my take on that era last night:
Realizing that there's more to life than unbridled pursuit of possessions is a good idea. Deciding that "sin" is just being made to feel guilty about pleasure: not so much.

As a Catholic, I have to believe that sin exists, but I do not go around trying to be miserable.

We live in a world that's basically good, but not perfect. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 299, 309-310)

Pleasure is a good thing. What can get us in trouble isn't pleasure: it's letting our desire for pleasure get out of hand. We are rational creatures, and are meant to make reasoned decisions: not emotional ones. The goal is using created things in a balanced way. (Catechism, 1730, 1804, 1809, 2362, 2351)

Sin, Real and Imagined

"Sin" in the Catholic sense is acting against reason and truth: which offends God. It's not good for us in the long run, either. (Catechism, 1849-1869)

"Original sin," again in the Catholic sense, is what happened when humanity's original harmony was damaged by our first parents' decision to defy God. (Catechism, 396-409)

I've posted about original sin before. (July 11, 2012, June 13, 2012)

Although sin is real, I've run into opinions about sin that are imaginative: to be kind about it.

I check in at a few 'prayer request' clearinghouses on the Web. It's one way I take care of the human need for prayer. Most of the requests are quite sensible: asking others to join them in asking for help, or giving thanks.

After particularly nasty crimes, like mass murder, hit the news. I usually run into at least one anguished prayer request that I'm sure is sincere: but is anything but sensible.


Collective Guilt?

I'm upset about crimes like the recent mass murder at a Connecticut school. I think it makes sense to ask God for help as we restore a more clearly-defined sense of ethics to American culture.

But asking God to forgive me for killing those kids? The crime was committed by someone else: without my knowledge, permission, or assistance.

I am a sinner: that's a consequence of original sin. I've also done some really stupid things that are also sinful. But I'm not guilty of that particular crime.

Then there are folks who apparently think we're all guilty of sins committed by someone else, generations before any of us were born.

I find that particularly unpleasant when the guilt is assigned to 'those people:' folks whose sin and shame is apparently having not having the same ancestors as the speaker:
At least one conspiracy theory may be an inclusive version of the 'all [insert despised group] are guilty' attitude.

Beware the Lizard Men?

I found this comment in a Catholic website's discussion thread. The screen name of the writer strongly suggests that he or she is Catholic.
"All this evil is inflicted by ourselves, no one else. The starvation of people like in Africa was deliberately planned by conspirators dreaming of a new world order. This starvation need never have happened, but God permitted it because of man's sins."
(from a discussion thread about sin)
As I've said before, some of the billion or so living Catholics believe things that just aren't so. An individual Catholic may believe that there's a global conspiracy plotting "a new world order." That doesn't make it true.

I enjoy conspiracy theories: in some stories. But that doesn't mean I believe them, although the one about space-alien shape-shifting lizard men running the world could make a rip-snorting thriller. (Another War on Terror Blog (January 14, 2009))

Come to think of it, it's been done: sort of. ("V" (1983))

Group Discount for Guilt??

I'm familiar with the idea of collective guilt. It's not always 'spiritual' attire for bias, or an effort to hide in a crowd.

I suspect that some folks may like the idea that 'we're all guilty' because it spreads responsibility out. In the short run, it's sort of like getting forgiveness at group rates.

The problem is that, although most humans are members of at least one group: we're also individuals. A corporation's board of directors may unanimously decide to swindle stockholders: but each individual makes a personal decision to go along or not.

The closest thing to 'group discount' forgiveness is general absolution. It's a sort of emergency procedure for situations where many folks will probably be dead before they can go through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The way it was explained to me was that if a ship was sinking fast with no rescue in sight, and impatient sharks circling the wreck, a priest could run the entire crew through a general absolution. If someone survived, that individual would be expected to go through the sacrament as promptly as possible.

Finally, the Bible talks about group guilt and even "evil races." It's important to read the Bible in context. ("Understanding the Bible," Mary Elizabeth Sperry)

These verses are not the sort of thing I'd care to stretch into claims that 'all [insert despised group] are evil.' That sort of thing is against the rules. (Catechism, 597, 1934-1938)

The footnotes are worth reading:
"1 'Tell the Israelites: When a person inadvertently commits a sin against some command of the LORD by doing one of the forbidden things,

"2 if it is the anointed priest who thus sins and thereby makes the people also become guilty, he shall present to the LORD a young, unblemished bull as a sin offering for the sin he committed.'
(Leviticus 4:3)

"Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people's disgrace."
(Proverbs 14:34)

"3Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the LORD, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized."
(Isaiah 1:4)

"We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers; that we have sinned against you."
(Jeremiah 14:20)
I've met folks who seem to feel that the 'right sort' are indignant or outraged pretty much all the time: and that's another topic.

Related posts:

"ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God's will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the 'new Adam,' came to redeem us (396-412)."

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.