Thursday, November 02, 2006

Christianity : Christ :: Scientology : Science

It’s worth considering, here and now, whether a belief in sin precludes true ethical awareness. Sin, as the term has come to be used in that Christianist doctrine which has effectively become the American state religion, is an evil inherent to human nature and especially the flesh. It has evolved directly from Original Sin.

In American vernacular sin has very little to do with the traditional deadly sins. Sin to the Christianist is a very narrow, particular kind. It is concrete, incarnate. Indeed, in American the abstract sins are obsolete, dead as the Dodo. Avarice has been entirely struck off the list, by the Prophet of Profit, Gordon Gekko, who famously declared “Greed is good.” (In its purest form it pertains to money, an abstraction, and today’s theologian do not traffic in abstractions.) Pride is something we are all to have, no matter how corrupt, ignorant, inept et cetera we are. If we lack self esteem we are to be medicated. Envy is the chief motor of the economy; you can never have too many “goods”. Sloth and gluttony are venial sins now, regrettable only in those cases where they manifest concretely, as in slovenliness, poor performance ratings, or obesity. Wrath is often natural, salutary, especially when channeled into the Two Minute Hate by a clergyman, say Limbaugh, Hannity, or O’Reilly.

What’s left, of course, is the most concrete, incarnate sin: lust, “the indordinate craving for pleasures of the body” – the sort of sin for which Sin City became famous. In practice, this means that sin really pertains only to sex and intoxication(“getting off”in one way or another), the kind of thing that flesh has been heir too ever since Adam ate of the apple and caused us to become merely human. Some things are just dirty (or trafe like certain animals and plants) and therefore sinful, or perhaps sinful and therefore dirty. It’s confusing if you think about it, so most don’t. They assume that sin is self-evident: it’s exactly like porno, you know it when you encounter it, by the nasty stirrings it gives you.

In some moments even such moral imbeciles as George Bush recognize that “we are all sinners,” that is to say, we all have appetites, fantasies, cravings et cetera that are evil, under the remaining vestigial notion of sin. (Though we all have these things in our nature, they are nonetheless evil because, apparently, they’ve been ordained so by the Great Bigot in the Sky.) Of course this has practical implications. The right-thinking Christianist will loath that aspect of himself and others. He hopes to make an exception to the No-Abstraction Rule and ‘Hate the sin but love the sinner.’ Regrettably perhaps, only the sinner can be punished, but you do what you can. So long as you sufficiently loath sin you may be redeemed from it by some Superhuman Pardon.

In actual practice the Christianist definition of sin is: “That which must be punished.” Sin and punishment are as logically inseparable as shadow and light, as gravity and flight. Sex must be punished with labor pains or AIDS, use of intoxicants must be punished with prison rape and everything else society can inflict – because otherwise how are we to save the sinners from that sin.
The problem with belief American Sin is this: it tends to eclipse ethical reflection. Sin is only tangentially related to concepts like justice, fairness, reciprocity, universality, actual harms, freedom and individual rights, concepts that go into any meaningful ethical reflection. Certainly the orgiast’s motto, ‘If it feels good do it,’ is unwise, and when strictly practiced soon gives rise to unethical, even criminally irresponsible behavior, but the Christianist’s one remaining commandment, “Thou shalt not get off,” is hardly a prescription for ethical life either. The notion that there are some things which, independent of their actual impact on any others, are evil is antithetical to any working notion of right and wrong.

The notion that those troubling feelings we have are evil also directly engenders the search for similar evil in others, and the pathological attempt to extirpate sin in ourselves by suppressing it elsewhere. These attempts are often monstrously cruel, in part because sin is inherently divorced from proportionality (“Let the punishment fit the crime.”) and from responsibility (let the consequences fall upon the act’s author). Just as disobedience Eve’s disobedience of a rather arbitrary prohibition (one predicated, like all, in a lie) gets her and all of us the death penalty, abominations, even if they’re just fantasies, are punishable with eternal damnation. Unless of course the Big Bigot gives, sells, trades or tips us dispensation in return for our abject abasement. Not even the Marquis de Sade could concoct a more morally bankrupt mythology than this.

I am not a Christian, but I feel strongly that if his story has any real meaning, Christ lived and died to free us from this bullshit, to replace the primitive, semiconscious Bronze Age notions of sin and redemption with upright, enlightened, self-aware, empathetic ethics, with the logical concepts, right and wrong.


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