Such a Small Minority

Wash away my sins, Lord,
Cleanse me in the rain
Let your holy thunder
Take away my pain.
Let me cry some tears, Lord.
Heal my sorry eyes
Dark and dry as deserts
Baking in the lies.
Call me in your dreams
Hold me in your arms
I’ve fallen in a sin-filled world
And idolized its charms.
Waiting for the rain to come down…

… Griffin House
……“Waiting for the Rain to Come”

It’s easy to forget our view of the world is often quite different than our neighbor’s. Until I reread Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of “sin” for a long, long time. I long ago rejected the idea of innate sin while studying religion and philosophy in college, but I’ve given much less thought to the idea of personal sin, not to mention guilt. Rereading the novel led to several hours on the net reading various definitions of “sin” and different religious groups’ view of sin. Even with all that reading, I’ve found it difficult to define exactly how I feel about “sin” and its accompanying “guilt,” so difficult it’s taken me over a week to sketch out these simple thoughts. Overall, I think, like Hardy, I reject the traditional idea of sin and the sense of guilt it engenders.

Apparently being raised in a non-church-going, Christian-Scientist-kind-of-family has given me a rather unusual view of sin, at least if polls are to be believed for according to a recent poll 87% of Americans believe in sin,though they often disagree on exactly what is or is not a sin. That places me in a pretty small minority. Research also revealed critics have historically accused Christian Scientists of not being Christians because Christian Scientists view Sin as Illusion. Of course, Christian Scientists also reject the tenant that man is inherently evil, insisting just the opposite is true. My parents never talked about sin; instead, they talked about hurting other people, not living up to your potential, and not living up to your ideals.

I was somewhat surprised when the same research revealed that “The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be equated to suffering.” Even the idea of dharma, with its cause-effect relationship, sounds like it could have come from Christian Science, and striving for Enlightenment seems remarkably similar to the Christian Scientist goal of becoming true spirit. No wonder I often find myself philosophically more attuned to Buddhism than to Christianity.

I’ll never know what effect this belief, or lack of belief, has had on my life. I suspect I’ve lived a rather boring, sin-free life, by most Christian standards, but not because I’ve ever consciously tried to avoid sinning. Most of what’s considered sin by the majority of people has simply never seemed like a wise choice to me. I didn’t have to be told that adultery or coveting your neighbor’s wife is a “sin” to realize it’s a bad choice that’s bound to hurt you or those you love. Stealing from your neighbor might bring short-term gains but it’s bound to cause grief in the long run. I’m not sure what labeling these as “sins” adds to the equation. Of course, if you’re one of those Conservative Christians who think even thinking about having sex with someone you’re not married to is a sin, than I guess I’m a sinner.

Personally, I can’t see how feeling guilty after sinning is particularly helpful, either. Feeling guilty seems like a waste of time. Better to spend time and energy trying to change those attitudes and feelings that led you to sin than to fixate on things you can’t change. If Henchard had worked on controlling his temper and learned to consider others’ needs and feelings, the central tragedy of the novel would have been avoided. He could never undo the damage he’d done when he sold his wife, but if he’d really learned from the incident that he needed to control his temper he would never have alienated Farfrae as he ended up doing. Feeling bad about what you’ve done can’t change it. Confessing your sin may, or may not, make you feel better, but surely an omniscient God already knows what you’ve done.

I’ve often wondered if some Vietnam veterans looked at their actions in Vietnam as a sin, perhaps an irredeemable sin. Many were devastated by what they’d done and seemed unable to move beyond their guilt. It literally paralyzed them. I’ll have to admit that at first, I, too, was traumatized by what I’d gone through and the changes that had been wrought. I suspect my job choices after the war were in many ways a form of penance. I’d certainly never thought of becoming a caseworker before the war. In the end, though, I saw my experience as proof that it was stupid to blindly believe my country was always right and always fought on the side of “God.” I was determined never to be so gullible again.

Spending your life worried about past sins seems to me like driving while looking in the rearview mirror. There are sure to be more accidents ahead. I try to spend very little time worrying about the past and, instead, focus on the future, trying to improve and become a better, smarter person. Hopefully, all my future mistakes will be new ones and there will be fewer of them.