We Must Not Blame Others For Our Sins

We Must Not Blame Others For Our Sins May 2, 2023

Mohammad Hassan: Putting The Blame On Others / pxhere

Sadly, more often than not, many of us do not want to take responsibility for our actions. We want to find some excuse to blame others for doing what we do. That is, when we do something wrong, when we sin, we try to excuse it by saying someone else was at fault because of the way they encouraged or tempted us to sin. That is, we try to find a way to blame others for our actions so that they will at least share in the consequences of our actions, if not to take all of the blame and free us from our own culpability. Many men, for example, try to justify their lust and whatever bad behavior their lust makes them do on women, saying that how they look, how they act, or even what they wear ultimately is at fault. The Genesis myth suggests that this was what Adam tried to do, as he says it was Eve’s fault that he ate the fruit which he shouldn’t have eaten, suggesting, likewise, that God was also to blame because God made Eve (cf. Gen. 3:12).

The reality is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. When we blame others for what we do, we are trying to hide from others, and possibly from ourselves, our inordinate desires and how they influence our interactions with others. When we do this, when we put the blame on others, we not only are guilty of the sin we have fallen for, but also the sin of unjust judgment. That is, we become guilty of at least two sins. We do so while trying to ignore the real reasons for our actions. Until we come face to face with what we are doing, with the internal desires and impulses we have not yet found a way to control, we will not stop doing what we are doing.  This need for us to take personal responsibility for our actions was a message given by many of the desert fathers, such as when anonymous elder said: “Never blame somebody else in each temptation; blame only yourself, saying: ‘This comes about because of my sins.’” [1] If we don’t acknowledge our own guilt, and the need to take responsibility for our own actions, we will never be able to overcome temptation. We will never get to the real root of the problem. How can we if we do not want to acknowledge we have a problem, something we fail to do when we try to place the blame on others. This, of course, is why humility is important and required, for humility teaches us to willingly accept the blame for our own faults and not look to others to judge or condemn them, especially for what we have done. The more we notice judge or condemn others in this way, the further we go astray, a truth which lies behind another brief story presented in the Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

A monk who encountered some nuns on the road withdrew from the road. Their leader said to him: “If you were a perfect monk you would not have noticed that we are women.” [2]

The monk went off the road, that is, he went astray. He went astray because he was not minding his own business. The way he looked to the world, and the people in it, he became troubled when he saw nuns, that is, women. The sight of the nuns shouldn’t have been an issue, and yet it was, and that was because of what lay inside him, not the nun. He had not come to terms with women as being dignified persons. He still treated them as mere objects. He couldn’t and didn’t notice who they were beyond their externals. The nuns were used to being treated as objects, as men, even monks, looked at them with prying eyes, considering them merely for their physical qualities and not for their own personal nature. They were dehumanized. The leader of the nuns, however, was not willing to let things stand as they were. She confronted the monk, pointing out his actions showed how far off he was from the Christian ideal, one which acknowledged and gave dignity to everyone. Her words indicated that he had yet to truly learn what it is to be a monk. He still was caught in worldly thoughts and treating women in accordance to those thoughts. The monk, ultimately engendered his own problem. The temptation came from within and he had yet to deal with it properly. Trying to avoid women when he saw them only exacerbated the problem. It helped him continue to objectify them, which is why the nun was right in pointing out he had a problem.

The problem of blaming others for one’s sins do not end with men justifying their actions upon the women they meet. It is an issue which can be had for all kinds of temptation. We can objectify people in a variety of ways. We can use that objectification to mistreat them, saying if there is anything we did wrong, it was ultimately their own. Many of us, for example, objectify the poor or foreigners so that we can dehumanize them, and once we have done so, we justify all the ways we mistreat them. Once again, the problem lays not at the hands of those who so needy, but the society who made them such, and usually those of us who abuse the needy in this way promote and create the social policies which lead to their existence. The reason why we do this comes from various passions such as greed, envy, or anger, passions which become reinforced the more we blame others for what they do.  The problem lies within. And until we root it out, we will find ourselves engaging all kinds of bad behavior, putting the blame on those we hurt.  We need humility, and indeed, love, if we are to overcome this evil. Love is what has us look upon others not as mere objects, but as persons, and through such love, we will find ourselves no longer blaming them for what we do wrong. Instead, we will be lifting them up; in doing so, we will find ourselves made better in return. It is only when love has grown cold that we begin to depersonalize others, dehumanize them with objectification and so start to blame them for what we do. And, as the desert fathers knew, when love grows cold, the world we live in becomes much worse:

A brother asked an elder: “How is it that nowadays there are some who labour away in the [various] ways of life but do not receive the grace the way those of old time did?”  “Then there was love,” the elder told him, “and each one promoted his neighbour. But now love has grown cold and each one is demoting his brother; that is why we do not receive grace.” [3]

This takes us back to where we began. Demeaning others, using them to find some excuse for when we fall into temptation, will mean we will constantly fall into temptation, never working to take control of ourselves. Scapegoating others suggests the problem is not ours, but rather, others, which is why they will have to pay the price for our sins. When such scapegoating is commonly exercised in society, everyone will be doing the same, embracing all kinds of vices while trying to place the blame, and so the burden, upon others. This is why it is important to be humble, to accept that when we fall for some sin, it is our doing alone. The more we do this, the more we can then actually fight against temptation. The more we fight against temptation, the more likely we will create good habits, habits which will help make sure we don’t fall into temptation in the future. The more we improve ourselves in this manner, the more, then, we will be able to help others do so as well, and slowly but surely, society, indeed the world, will improve along with us.

[1] John Wortley, trans., The Anonymous Sayings Of The Desert Fathers: A Select Edition And Complete English Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 203 [N305/15.79/ Or 12].

[2] John Wortley, trans., The Anonymous Sayings Of The Desert Fathers: A Select Edition And Complete English Translation, 105 [N154/4.75].

[3] John Wortley, trans., The Anonymous Sayings Of The Desert Fathers: A Select Edition And Complete English Translation, 229 [N349/17.23].


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