Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 24, 2008
Media spin on sin has bishop bemused
Archbishop discusses social impact of sin with Vatican newspaper
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Sin give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to divine goodness.
A sin is not a sin simply because an archbishop proclaims it so. Sin, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "is an offence against reason, truth and right conscience." Reason and truth do not shift in response to political trends, nor do they change at the whim of Vatican officials. We need to recover a sense of sin and an appreciation that sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to divine goodness.
"Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin."
Personal honesty and the maintenance of a modest standard of personal possessions are somewhat easy matters to face relative to the demands on the Catholic conscience created by a social order not of one's making. However, living at peace with one's conscience in the midst of nationwide or global injustice makes individual believers wonder how they can seek liberty and justice for all.
As a formula of words it is easy. Advancing it as a social reality is hard.
The fact is that the goals of any modern state for its people - such as literacy, education, nourishment, health care, employment, affordable housing, child care and care for the elderly - can be accomplished only communally, that is at the level of society.
Even in cultures where the fabric of family or clan has remained strong, there is no other way in the larger society than the communal way.
We have no record in either testament of Sacred Scripture of a morality that is purely individual. It is always social.
The Bible is at the same time never committed to the emotions or the will or the two together as the sole locus of decision. There are always reasons of the head for or against a line of conduct. On the basis of these reasons one makes a choice. They can be eminently good reasons or just as readily bad ones: the noblest unconcern for the self or the lowest motives of self-interest.
Passion, ambition and covetousness, or conscience, altruism and duty may enter in. But there are always reasons.
Characteristic of our present age is the confusion in the popular mind over precisely what is right and what is wrong. Our culture is in a state of lamentable uncertainty. Feeling has so overtaken thinking that it is almost a heresy to suppose that one can do hard thinking about a right course of action.
Good moral arguments are few and far between. As a friend of mine says: "When moral claims are put forward they are likely to be soft-headed without the redeeming value of being pure-hearted."
The public forums for discussion that different audiences attend to - television panels, talk shows and radio call-in programs, newspaper columns - almost never entertain a good argument (in the sense of a logical one) about a correct way of acting.
You get shouting matches based on opposite understanding of terms, a constant begging of the question, an appeal to parallel cases, but seldom a demonstrative argument. Anyone who holds an ethical position with conviction, particularly if it includes infringement on a person's untrammelled freedom, is likely to be declared dogmatic or worse.
In the midst of all the woolly-headed banter about what to do and why in order to live a fully human life, maybe we ought to talk more about personal sin and the destructive research on human embryos, the degradation of the environment, the disparity between rich and poor, and drug trafficking.
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