Thursday, 16 August 2012

Claiming the moral low ground

A word which seems to be used very easily and often, and which is all over the blogs (and their titles), in the Christian sector anyway, is sin.

Sin in the Anglican tradition is reasonably clear-cut, being basically a deliberate rejection of ethical, religious and moral codes or mores.

We are told to believe that even if we choose deliberately to sin, there is always hope of salvation provided we reject our sinful ways and accept Jesus as our new path.

One of the things which repels and fascinates  me in equal measure is the concept of sin as seen through the eyes of the Catholic Church.

There is a long history of individuals, communities and whole continents whose way of life is seen as deeply sinful and whose only possible ultimate end is in Hellfire.

Breast-beating, rending of garments  and self-flagellation are not viewed as ridiculous or 'over-the-top', ways of doing penance. Instead it is seen as at least one step on the way to salvation.

Another rather unpleasant manifestation of the "I am saved, and I want everyone to know it" faction in the Christian church is  the "My sin is greater than yours", where individuals dwell loud and long, and usually very publicly on their past wicked ways, compared with their new stainless mode.

For me, having had the opportunity to view at very close quarters, quite a long time ago, one of the Catholic church's 'fallen angels', persisting in his chosen sin, while attending mass daily and confession weekly.  From whence he would emerge shiney new, and all ready to continue on his hedonistic way.  It seems to me, that there is a very great difference between the absolute certainty of forgiveness, provided the formula is followed, and the trembling, uncertain hope that there may after all be a chance of forgiveness if all previous ways are set aside.

Over simplistic I know, and biased I know, but to me it seems that the Catholic Church can be seen as "purveyors of misery to the masses", while the Anglican Church can be seen as the hope in the bottom of Pandora's box.


  1. In the light of your post, Ray, you might find interesting an article by John Cornwell in the current edition (18th August 2012) of The Tablet, entitled "Where are the penitents?" although it doesn't make for easy reading.

    Concerned with the Catholic church, and based on extensive research, it suggests that fewer people are seeking "confession" - not just in the UK, but in the world as a whole - and that the dwindling minority who are seeking it may be finding it increasingly difficult to access.

    One paragraph reads:

    The understanding of sin and confession today appears to pull in different directions, reflecting wider tensions in the Church. A recent convert informant, instructed in a trad­itionalist mode, has been taught that missing Mass is a serious sin requiring absolution before receiving the Eucharist. In contrast, a pastor of a large East End of London parish tells me that he never speaks of sin. “We have encouraged teenagers in our local Catholic school to see Reconciliation as an opportunity to talk about their experience of life, and their difficulties.”

    The article can be read online, at:

    Best wishes


  2. Thankyou for the reference Graham. I have read it in full and as you say, it does indeed make uncomfortable reading.
    It is interesting that a variety of different approaches appear to be currently operating within the Catholic church, which was not the case in my youth.
    Penitence appears to be less fashionable than of yore while the concept of what constitutes sin seems to depend on the views of individual priests.
    Once again, thankyou for your comment.

  3. The whole Pussy Riot saga has made me analyse the concept of sin. Religious Russians adopted a puritanical approach to the dancing and singing that took place and seemed to relish the punishment that was meted out. They did not consider the substance of the protest which was about an undemocratic government.

  4. Don't you think Jane, that all such governments rely on suppression of 'critical' voices by whatever means they choose, in order to retain power.
    Since the Russian Church is now seen as part of the establishment (when it suits them), they can get away with the excuse that the behaviour of the group was 'profane' and thereby disrespectful to the church/state.
    Personally had I been a member of the group I'd have demonstrated outside not in the Cathedral.
    It seems not a lot has changed in the 'new' Russia.

  5. Ahhhh, how well I relate. Having been raised & schooled for 12 years in the Catholic tradition, I know so well about some of the "disconnects" you mention.

    I made the decision in my early 20s (I'm now 64) to leave the Catholic Church, eventually finding my way to the Protestant worldview. There's an equal amount of nonsense there, I can assure you. But I've never regreted the switch.

    What I've come to understand and value, is how life-affirming and freeing are the scriptures. I no longer take pride in my shameful sinner-ness, but rejoice in having been set free from the law of sin & death. My boast is now in Christ, and Him crucified!



  6. As a rank outsider (atheist/communist father and agnostic/socialist mother, and having only been baptised and confirmed at the age of 75, I am glad to be an Anglican.
    Having had a long lifetime to observe the various complexions of Catholicism, Judaism, Methodism etc etc. I am still at a loss as to what truly constitutes sin and fear that my own views would differ rather widely from the established church of any denomination.
    From what I read in the blogs and in the media at large at would seem that sin is almost always equated with some form of sexual behaviour and the discussions are long and tedious and inconclusive.
    My own rather simplistic view is that if we can manage to behave well towards others as we would have them behave to us, break no laws, and offend and hurt no-one then we are doing pretty well.

  7. Yes, I have trouble with sin ( I mean the concept...) I do think sin is things that hurt yourself or others. It isn't always that simple - suppose you choose to be a teacher rather than a doctor and this hurts your parents, who have cherished the idea of you being a doctor. That's not sin, obviously. So, hurt caused by wilful actions, or doing things you know/ believe to be unjust.

  8. Hi Sue. This is really the whole point of my rather incoherent post, but my second paragraph really encapsulates what I believe and that the deliberate intention to choose the moral low-ground is what constitutes sin. We all aim high and at times fail dismally, but to be drawn into actions which we know to be morally indefensible and then to just go along with them is my definition of a sinner.
    I should know, I've been there, and more than once.