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  • Reverend James Squire

Whatever Became of Sin?

During the Middle Ages there was an expression “O Happy Guilt!”. Guilt is one of those emotions along with rejection and vulnerability that we try at all costs to avoid. What could this positive take on guilt mean and how would it make us happy?

As it turns out it could be critical in our culture today. Guilt, as in a court case, implies consequences. Just recently we have seen one of the seditionists get permission to attend a bonding event in a spa in Mexico with fellow workers. One of the faces of the insurrection was the horned shaman member of QAnon who was front and center for the take-over of the capitol. He now has his request to be served organic food accepted. Since it is not supplied by the jail food service, people are inconvenienced to provide this service. Give me a break!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been afraid to go to her office because of the overt threats to her. Marjorie Taylor Greene states that she is wrong to have believed all those bad things like QAnon, saying that lasers by Jews caused the fires in California, and the shooting sprees at schools did not really happen. The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon did not occur either. In one breath behind closed doors, she is home free. She indicated that she really didn’t believe all these things. The democrats held her accountable. Her response was to state that “this would give her time to support Trump and other right wing causes”. To top it all off, her fund raising has gone up considerably after she was taken off her committee assignments. Not only didn’t she have any consequences, but she was rewarded for her bad behavior. Who would be discouraged for lacking the courage of their convictions and then get rewarded for it?

It set a nice tone to avoid “happy guilt”. Lindsay Graham said after the insurrection that “he had had enough”. One day later he was back to supporting Trump. Kevin McCarthy did the same. Liz Chaney holds Trump accountable and her party has her censured! What do you think the cultural message is that is floating out there after these events?

Mayor Kenny of Philadelphia is no better. He agreed to hire a 22 years age graduate of Drexel with no experience in public health to head a vaccine delivery system for the city. When the enterprise went south, Kenny simply said, “Let’s just move on!” We have an epidemic with Covid-19, but we have another epidemic with people failing to experience guilt, accept responsibility, and to accept the consequences for their actions.

Why is this a problem beyond the obvious? Karl Menninger, one of the icons in the world of mental health wrote a book years ago that got at the issue. The title of his book is Whatever Became of Sin? published in 1973. He taught at Harvard and founded a world renown mental health facility, The Menninger Clinic, in Topeka, Kansas. He was described as someone with a “psychiatric tongue with a religious accent”. He was always concerned about the ethical thing to do. His point of view was that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). If you are human, you have done some wrong things. It’s human nature. How should we deal with that reality?

When we feel helpless as human beings, we become apathetic. Apathy causes us to be less concerned about consequences. Apathy speaks those words that we have heard so frequently in our political world. “Let’s just move on!”

Think about how the lack of consequences has affected us in the Black Lives Matter movement and the Pandemic. In order for the Black Lives Matter movement to change America, there must be consequences for the killings that have occurred in the black community by police. The voices of those who support the Black Lives Matter movement say, “We want justice! We want to see consequences!” If consequences do not happen, we will lose our moral compass. Our culture still says overtly and covertly, “Let’s just move on!”

I am writing this post on the day of the Super Bowl. We have survived the surges after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. We know what causes the spread of this virus. Spikes come after times of super spreaders. Yet the video that we see of the parties in Tampa Bay are out of control with no masks, no social distancing, and no direct consequences from the law. We know that groups of people will gather together in homes to watch the big game. The responsible ones will gather only with people in their immediate family circle. If history repeats itself a good many of the gatherings will not be with those responsible individuals. Apathy will prevail. They may have the consequences by getting the disease but the real consequence that I am concerned about are the consequence to the medical people who will have to take care of those who didn’t follow the rules. The hospitals will be overrun again. These medical people have been doing this for a year without a break.

Apathy yields “Let’s just move on!” No guilt or no consequences will mean more black people will die and more people will catch the virus.

Sin is defined as “alienation from self, others, and God”. It defines our world as we are presently experiencing it. Whatever became of sin? In most services in Christian worship there is a confession of sin to return to the Christian life. Rosh Hannah and Yom Kippur, the high holy days in Judaism, require a confession of sins before atonement, being at one with God, self, and others, can occur.

Whatever became of guilt and consequences? We need to get back to that reality to regain our moral compass. We need to speak it with the tongue of doing the right thing with “an accent of religion and the moral life”.

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