Tuesday, August 13, 2002

I want to thank all of you for your ongoing and inspiring comments on my August 9th posting. I didn't want to interrupt the flow so I waited until today to comment. To be honest, I am unconvinced that sin makes any one a better person. Just the same, the conversation did bring to mind an idea I once heard that was very persuasive.

The argument was that sin itself can act to retrieve a person from an alternate sin. Basically, the idea is that there are some sins to which the 'average Catholic Joe' might be particularly susceptible. These would be things like complacency, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, a lack of charity to the virtuously-challenged, rash judgement and condemnation, sins of sloth etc. The danger of these particular sins is that they can become deeply entrenched in our souls so that they appear to be mere character flaws or quirks rather than acts of sin. They might even appear under the guise of saintliness.

A swift and visible fall from grace into a publicly recognized sin can act as a wake-up call requiring us to recognize the actual state of our souls. By this measure, the visible sins of some of the major tele-evangelists for example might actually have worked good in forcing people (including the sinner himself) to confront their own relationship with evil. We are forced to confront the very condemnation that we are prone to indulge in. This could possibly effect a change in heart and a deepening of compassion.

This argument assumes that, in the 'fall from grace', we have succumbed to weakness in the face of recognized sin and that we are honest both in our sin and in our repentance. In other words, we comprehend the nature of our act and we are justly humiliated (or should I say humbled) in our sin. It assumes a willingness to self-examination and an openness to the movement of grace.

The visible sin might then be considered as the lesser of two evils. It might even serve as a wedge between the sinner and his prior commitment to an alternate sin. At the subjective level, it is a lesser evil than the original 'habit of the heart'. The visible sin to which the sinner lacks attachment presents a lesser danger to the sinner than the habitual sin to which he had become so attached. On an objective level, the visible sin might also be a lesser evil because the corruption of complacency and self-aggrandizement might be more offensive to God than the sin of .. I don't know... occasional drunkenness... a brawl... a gambling rush.

Perhaps this isn't a case of sin making one a virtuous person so much as it is the case of the lesser sin making one a less sinful person. If the effect of the second sin is to detach one from the first sin without establishing an attachment to the second, you could argue that the second sin 'improves' the sinner. All things considered, I guess ...I concede.

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