A defense of sin sounds counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t a world be better without the notion of sin influencing institutions and interactions? Is sin merely a burden of guilt and shame that holds societies back? Not necessarily.
While it is true that an overemphasis on one’s own and others’ sins results in a scrupulous and fearful puritanism, going to the other extreme and excising it from the social dialogue has potentially worse effects, which become evident as our civilization develops an increasingly acute allergy even to the word “sin.”
This concept has become an uncomfortable point in conversations and is even avoided in the religious realm, including the Catholic Church. In the 3 encyclicals published by Pope Francis (Lumen Fidei, Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti), the word “sin” appears just 14 times, compared to 106 occasions when the word “environment” is read; 30 of “ecology”; 55 of “future“; and 22 of “globalization” or its derivatives. And it is not only the Vatican, in general, but there is also a tendency to censure the concept of sin, considered as a sign of “intolerance” towards others.
Ignoring sin implies two equally serious problems
The first is that simply erasing this word from discourse does not eliminate the reality of human behavior. Progressives believe that what is omitted from discourse (made invisible) ceases to exist, but they are wrong. The real world is not constructed from words. The real world exists, even if we ignore it in discourse. Both sin and evil exist, even if we do not mention these words.
In fact, history is replete with “utopias” made up of only “good people” that sooner rather than later lead to at least standard evil (and at most, genocide), from the oldest communes to the violent protests over the George Floyd case, which last year led to “autonomous zones” whose participants started shooting at each other.
The second problem of ignoring the existence of sin and concupiscence natural to all human beings is that (ironically) this generates the breeding ground for the strengthening of totalitarian creeds.
Let me explain: if, as the modern world affirms, evil arises from outside the human being, as a mere learned social behavior, then we can extirpate it through “re-education” that eliminates such behaviors and social factors. Therefore, once the “bad” behaviors and beliefs are eliminated, we will all be “good” and we will have built “paradise”.
If this promise of being all good by design and by decree reeks of concentration camps, genocide and apartheid, they are right. It is not for nothing that the mass extermination centers of the totalitarianism of the last century adopted the monikers of purification through labor or re-education as a pretext to liquidate almost 200 million human beings who were considered “evil” by their respective governments of “good” people.
The Nazis believed that evil and goodness were linked to race; the Soviets believed it was linked to social class; the Khmer Rouge that it was linked to a profession (and so they killed everyone who was a professional or had glasses); the Turks that it was linked to religion. They all believed that evil was the result of a particular characteristic of certain social groups and that, if they eliminated them, only “the good guys” would remain. So they killed them, systematically, by the millions, as never before in history.
The world reacted with horror to those crimes. However, that evil that we denounce so much in the Nazi, the Soviet or the Young Turk, is not exclusive to them, it lurks in every human soul. Therefore, it is re-emerging now, albeit under a new pro-green disguise that at the same time refuses to speak of sin and assumes an increasingly hostile stance towards what it considers sinful.
It is no coincidence that movements such as Antifa are becoming increasingly violent, nor that the industrialized press and the progressive ecosystem, in general, are becoming increasingly aggressive and intolerant towards everything they consider retrograde. They have not yet reopened the “re-education camps”, but they are not far off. And yes, the right also has its own enlightened ones, because at the end of the day this temptation to “be good” can seduce us all.
Simply put, as Tyrion Lannister explained in the brilliant (yes, brilliant, I said it) final episode of Game of Thrones, when he explained Daenerys’ madness: “Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right. She believes her destiny is to build a better world for everyone. If you believed that… if you truly believed it, wouldn’t you kill whoever stood between you and paradise?”
And I ask you the question: If you were sure that you were good and that you could eliminate evil forever, wouldn’t you kill whoever you had to in order to guarantee a permanent paradise for everyone else?
In defense of original sin
That is why it is so important to rescue sin from the inorganic trash can into which the modern consensus has thrown it and to reposition it in the public dialogue. Especially the “original sin” that all human beings share and that constitutes one of the most wonderful, democratic and egalitarian characteristics of the Christian worldview.
Chesterton explains it superbly: “Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.”
“Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king,” for all human beings, from the pope in Rome to Biden in the White House, from the poorest of beggars to the most Bezos of Jeffs, share the stain of original sin and the concupiscence that results from it.
In the silence of our conscience we all know, with St. Paul, that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, and if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Therefore, when I would do good, I find this law, that evil is in me”.
Beyond the theological implications, which I leave to theologians, this certainty has profound political implications.
- It means that no matter how much we “purify” a society, the reality of evil is inescapable. We cannot extirpate it, we have to confront it permanently. As long as the world is the world, we will not rest from sin, not even if we impose our ideology in every corner of the earth.
- It means that no human being can attain full purity, regardless of his religion, his ideology, his race, his bank account (or lack thereof). No one on earth is “good”. We are all at the same time called to holiness and tempted to perdition. Every person can be wonderful in charity or monstrous in ambition, and his face will be formed by the sum of the decisions he accumulates along the way.
- It means that we cannot simply hand over the governance of society and the direction of our lives to a group of enlightened ones. Unlike Gnosticism, which offers salvation through knowledge of the occult (or intersectional victimhood, which offers purity depending on the level of oppression) and necessarily results in a caste system, the Christian view of an original sin shared by all means that even the wisest and most powerful can be evil. The Christian king is not a god, but a sinner with a crown.
And yes, it is also true that Christians have often forgotten the implications of original sin, and have idolized popes, kings and the like. It is normal because Christians are also sinners, we all are, and understanding this is key to resist the temptation to feel “good”… and crush others.
That is why, at the end of the day, the worst sin is pride: believing ourselves to be pure, worthy of deciding who lives and who dies, “good” gods, with the right to build the paradise of our whim, which will always be hell, for everyone.