Peter Wales thinks the besetting sin of our age…

Peter Wales thinks the besetting sin of our age… July 10, 2012

…is blindness to the fall. I partly agree and partly disagree.

Certainly we are an age that doesn’t like to acknowledge sin against You Know Who, because that would entail acknowledging You Know Who. So yeah, you get all kinds of rubbish about Following Your Bliss and moral relativism and so forth.

But we are, nonetheless, acutely an age that is aware of sin too. It’s just that the sin we are aware of belongs to Those People over There–Nazis, pedophiles, racists, child pornographers, wife beaters–whoever the moral relativist’s enlightened peers have decided is Beyond the Pale. Those people are not merely sinners but are human devils quite beyond redemption or forgiveness and eligible for nothing but death.

Having rejected God, our age does not get freedom from sin. What it gets is sin without the hope of forgiveness or redemption. You can’t wish sin away. It continues to be real anyway. But we try to wish it away by excusing sin beyond the bounds of common sense–and then whipsaw into the total refusal of forgiveness for sin we cannot invent an excuse for. Moral relativists, when they stop being moral relativists, are among the most merciless moralists on planet earth, as angry at the Church for forgiving sins as for warning of sin. The paradox of the gospel, meanwhile, is that God warns of sin but also forgives it readily while the world denies sin beyond all sanity and, in the end, forgives no sins.

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  • Peter

    Good points Mark – thanks.

  • JB

    What the world today means by sin is something more like “failure to evolve”, the punishment being extermination.

  • Zzedar

    Mostly I agree, though I do have a question about the second paragraph: Is this really particular to our age? People have always found it easier to see their opponents’ sins than their own, and of course modernity didn’t invent the desire to demonize one’s enemies. I suppose it’s possible that we are prone to these failings to a greater extent than normal, but it’d be hard to prove that.

  • Amy

    This, I think, is precisely why Jesus was so harsh with the Pharisees. When I was in religious ed, I remember it being popular to point to Jesus’ rebukes of the Pharisees verses His kindness to the prostitutes and publicans as “evidence” that hypocracy and being judgmental were the really serious sins. But the ones He spoke to with kindness and compassion were aware of their sin and need for forgiveness. The Pharisees’ great sin wasn’t judging others, it was that they failed to judge themselves. The greatest risk to their salvation, and ours, is the pride that lead us to believe we don’t need to be saved.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’m going to attack the atheists before they come in here on this one: Those who reject the church because of clerical sex abuse are guilty of the paradox of tolerating sexual sin in society, while crying against the Church for her forgiveness of sexual sin. The homosexual who wants to get out of the life-sucking “Gay Pride” culture; the man who is tired of sowing his premarital libertine wild oats and wants to get married; the priest who abused children but now wants nothing more than to spend his last days locked away in a cloister away from humanity; ALL THREE OF THESE DESERVE FORGIVENESS- equally and without reservation.

  • Patrick

    Excellent point, Mr. Shea.

  • Observer

    Today’s modernity is that politicaly correct sins are un-punishable as well with regard to prohibiting salvation to souls who commit sins that are not politically correct. Meaning, any soul who lives in venial or mortal sin which is considered accepable, and at-the-same-time visciously prevents any person who is in a grave and dangerous sin penance, are much more crooked than the non-politically correct sinner.

    Wait! Wasn’t that what used to be called a Pharisee?

    The Church does not have to, and there is no moral error should she choose to, revoke any attempt or persuasion to tell her who sins she may or may not forgive. She is God’s domain and not Man’s. If pitiful men (who at the same time deny their pitifulness – as the Pharisee’s were) deny Jesus Christ three times (how Saint Peter become much more tempted by the Devil after Christ told satan to get behind Him before the Passion – St. Peter felt terrible penance and cried -Humility – Judas did not and killed himself – Pride), then they’re salvation is revoked. You cannot deny any man their salvation and at-the-same-time believe in an un-penetant way you don’t have to ask for forgiveness causing prevention of a man never to repent (because you’ve pressed the vacuum of despair and tried to eclipsed the mercy of God), and receive God’s salvation fully for yourself. No, the Church does not work that way. And Thanks be to God she doesn’t.

  • The modern world, where everything is permissible and nothing is forgiveable.

  • Rosemarie


    A case in point:

    A reading from the not-so-holy “Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark“:*

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; and those who sin against them will never be forgiven.” (p. 84)

    Yep, liberals don’t believe in forgiveness.

    *not Mark Shea, but Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones.

  • Imrahil

    Well, … it’s the well-known fact that forgiveness is a Christian speciality. I hate to say it but it even seems to be a Catholic speciality. Oh, yes, most Protestants use the term; but they mean (Calvin I think does explicitly; Luther, who is a special case, says so explicitly though outside terminology, in his heart, he still feels in the Catholic way) that God arbitrarily decides not to care for a sin. (At least they believe so much! But) That is not forgiveness as the Catholic understands it; what forgiveness really is is a thing wonderful to describe, and I shall not attempt that here. (It is not [that is, the following is only a minor important side-effect if at all] improving oneself for the future, neither by one’s own nor even by God’s means. I shall say so much.)

    Having rejected forgiveness, the modern man must – I had nearly said “draw a distinction between forgivable and unforgivable sins” to keep the polity running. No. That is not the case (though he will describe it this way; which is why where the Catholic terminology is known to a degree, “venial sin” has come to be a coquettrious way to describe some things, and the educators of the people even take pains to [wrongly] insist that driving-a-little-to-fast is what the Catholic would call a mortal sin. Brave new world.). What he really does is sort some sins out so that there still remains a way to defend the good (things, I mean, not people) against the evil. In this aim he is right, but the method, besides being wrong, does not even work (the great error of the liberal); for though there are such things as private sins practically speaking, all sins and errors tend to proselytize, and thus become public; and all public sins (and objectively-only sinful deeds) do real damage, even visible damage for those that have the eyes to see – that for certain, and I’d bet even measurable material damage for the materialists. An interesting side-effect (and I shall not psychologize about how this was the ulterior effect after all) is that thus the modern man (that is, the one we speak of) is no longer a sinner; and because then sin is something foreign to him, he cannot understand another one who is. And that is why the sinner must be cast out.

    People have always seen their opponents’ sins rather than their own; but in Christian times they did not want to cast out their opponents. If they were saints, they’d want to correct them or be silent; if they were normal men, they wanted a little chatter to common amusement. If they happened to be at war with them they wanted to give them a decent fight because that’s what to do with an enemy at war (and the stories of actual soldier friendships after war across the enemy lines are legion, even in modern times). (I include law processes among the wars.) But the casting out and the de-humanizing did not then exist to large degrees.