Our 'new sins' don't allow for any redemption. My column in today's Greenville News.


This is my column in today’s Greenville News.   As I’ve looked over responses today, I’m fascinated.  Some very nice, supportive notes; also some very angry ones.  And the angry ones accuse me of being judgmental and anti-science.  Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that the new ‘sins’ of our culture are unforgivable.  And the responses completely confirm my suspicions.  How dare I say that global climate change should be subject to doubt?  How dare I suggest that Paula Deen be forgiven?  How could I be a good physician when I’m a ‘science denier.’  It comes down to accusations of heresy, for which I can never be forgiven unless I do some odd penance; or maybe not even then.  Anyway, here goes!


Given that this is Sunday, I’ll pose a Sunday-School kind of question. Is there any such thing as sin? It’s a funny word, sin. It’s a concept deeply embedded in our culture and language. (Some of us would say, in our souls.) It implies wrong-doing, an offense against God.


But these days, the very idea that people might be separated from ultimate good (much less God) by their hearts or behaviors, the very idea that humans do ‘bad’ things and need to confess and repent, well that’s a bit of a stretch for polite society, isn’t it? ‘Oughts’ are passe, and have been generally replaced with feelings and a kind democratic process in which we all rather vote on right and wrong (or let entertainers and pundits decide for us).


However, sin is alive and well. Let’s face it, society may scoff at the church for saying fornication is a sin, or drunkenness or theft (or anything else proscribed in scripture). But society loves (and I mean loves) the concept of sin. And people love to condemn others; it’s quite invigorating to judge, even though we are all told not to do it. (Ironically, judging is a modern sin of the first order…unless judging those who are intolerant or judgmental, obviously.)


Need an example? It isn’t hard to find, as American culture is absolutely full of modern sins. How about the ‘sin’ of racism? Ask Paula Deen if she committed a sin. Heck, she was more roundly condemned and castigated than any Mosaic scape-goat could ever have been. Years ago she used a racial epithet and because she confessed her sin of racism, she was required to repent on national television. And her penance? Loss of her cooking ’empire.’ (No Hail Marys for Paula!) And what penance will the world require of Oprah’s Swiss shop-girl?


How about disbelief? No, not disbelief in God. I mean disbelief in some popular idea. What about disbelief in global climate change? Why, you might as well be a baptist who doesn’t believe in casseroles! Environmentalism is its own religion to no small number of moderns, thanks to our tendency to worship something. And anthropogenic global climate change is an essential part of the catechism. In general, ‘Science,’ with a big ‘S,’ can never be doubted without opening oneself up to angry accusations of ignorance; despite the very real fact that it is the job of science to question science.


What about big business and greed? Is greed bad? Well yes. But not just to people who think God says so. Greed is bad because big business and wealth are bad; and they’re bad because, well, greed is bad. The Occupy Wall Street movement was full of tent-dwelling ascetics with student loans, i-Pads and Starbucks cups who just knew it. Wealth and greed are fine if the greedy agree with the right ideas or donate to the right campaigns. ‘Greed: good for me, bad for you.’


And to really push the hot-button, what about those folks who just aren’t on board with same-sex marriage? In modern parlance, they’re haters (even if they happen to love same-sex people). Or, to put it another way, they’re sinners. In an odd turn-about, the condemners of what was traditionally considered sin find themselves condemned; not by God but by man, the new arbiter of the New Law. And the new cultural priests spew their own fire and brimstone, and mark their ideological enemies with a scarlet B for bigot or F for fundamentalist.


Although it’s not an exhaustive list of the ‘New Sins,’ there is something hopeful to be learned here. We all at least agree that some things are wrong. While we disagree in content, between ancient revelation and modern construction, the fact that the very idea of right and wrong still exists gives me a little hope.


What’s hopeless is that there is no redemption from the new sins. There is no real forgiveness; there’s only surrender, complicity and endless sacrifice. Judeo-Christian faith tells us that God forgives and forgets if we ask in sincerity. But the New Law is never satisfied. No sacrifice is great enough and no repentence sincere enough and no past sin, however remote, is free of examination; unless you are a law-maker, of course. And any deviation, any heresy, is intolerable.


As New Sins and New Laws continually emerge, I wonder if we’ll discover that the old ways, which called out sin but simultaneously offered repentance and redemption, were gentler than we ever realized.


4 thoughts on “Our 'new sins' don't allow for any redemption. My column in today's Greenville News.

  1. Thank you for putting your finger on the truth about the spirit of our time. It brings to mind the old hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good. There is welcome with the Saviour, there is healing in His blood. For the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind. And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”

    Thank you for eloquently expressing truth.

  2. The writer of the guest column headlined “Our ‘new sins’ don’t allow for redemption” published Sunday August 18 provides some insight into the conservative mind while the writers attempt to use religion as a metaphor for his political views falls flat, perhaps demeaning both.

    He misses the opportunity to correctly define “sin” at the outset when he asserts that “sin implies wrongdoing, an offense against God.” (hardly a “funny word“). He would have been entirely correct had he omitted the words “implies wrongdoing”. Having correctly defined “sin” as an offense against God, he might have been more judicious in suggesting that conservatives are being accused of “sinning” by taking positions with which others (presumably liberals) disagree. Conservative positions on racism, global warming, growing disparities between the rich and poor, and same sex marriage are more likely to be characterized by liberals as being flawed on the merits.

    Let us see if we cannot find better terms than “sin” (an offence against God) for the conservative positions he mentions. A common definition of racism involves the belief in racial differences which acts as a justification for non-equal treatment. Illegal only when acted upon to deprive people of equal rights and opportunities, people who commit injustices motivated by racism generally refuse to admit being motivated by racism. Because we cannot know with certainty what is in an individuals heart, we can only provide sanctions against acts of racial discrimination. Why should conservatives be any less offended by racial discrimination than anyone else? Simply raising the issue in this context suggests that conservatives are less tolerant of racial discrimination than liberals. Liberals think racial discrimination is ethically wrong, a position which can be defended on rational grounds negating any need to argue about what God thinks of it.

    Global warming denying has become such a mantra of the extreme right that its acceptance as fact among conservatives is as rare as “a Baptist who doesn’t believe in casseroles“. Environmentalism is a rational, justified concern for the health of the planet on which we live. Those who deny science in order to continue to excuse pollution of the earth commit offences against the planet on which we depend for our very life. If a person chooses to be so anti-intellectual as to deny broadly accepted science, should he expect to be shielded from ridicule? Is ignorance a sin?

    The writer asserts that those who believe greed is bad do so because “big business and wealth are bad”. If we cannot agree on a reasonable definition of greed, we might be better served to leave “greed” out of the discussion about the growing disparity between rich and poor. People rightly concerned about the shrinking middle class are more likely to suggest policies such as raising the minimum wage which will allow workers who work full time to have an existence at or just above the poverty level, promoting measures to make it easier for workers to organize, promoting progressive income tax policies and insuring that everyone has access to health care. Those opposed to these measures are often seen by liberals as having been duped into taking positions against their own self interest. Is stupidity a sin?

    And “what about those people who just aren’t on board with same-sex marriage?” The writer suggests liberals call them “haters”. The truth is, liberals cannot understand how the marriage of two people of the same sex who love each other and wish to make that commitment to each other, has anything whatever to do with anyone other than those couples themselves. Since liberals fail to understand how permitting marriage of loving same sex couples is a threat to heterosexual marriage, liberals suspect there is actually some other unspoken reason for the denial of this civil right to other than heterosexual people. Why should liberals call denying civil rights to LGBTQ people sin when “homophobia” is more to the point ?

    The writer expresses hope that the idea of right and wrong still exists despite the positions taken above by the left. Humanity not only knows right from wrong, humanity is also capable of using our rational minds to find solutions for racial injustice, environmental degradation, the growing chasm between the haves and have nots and justice for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

    Let us do what we can to rectify the injustices of racism, poverty, discrimination against those who are different than ourselves and of environmental degradation . Whether or not those who advocate otherwise have God’s approval is not for us to judge. If the writer feels there is sin involved with his positions, perhaps it is an indication his conscience is working.

  3. Thanks for the article. As a science student who, unbelieveably, affirms a loving – and righteous – God, I cannot escape the judgment of the “tolerant.” Keep it up.

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