Recently my facebook news feed seems to have been filling up with little red equals signs, mostly among my those of my cousins who fall into one of the following two groups: in their 40s or American. (I could do a nice little Venn diagram.) This morning one of them, who descibes herself as 'Catholic....sort of?', shared the Atheist Quote of the Day:
Homosexuality is not a sin. Atheism is not a sin. Belonging to the wrong religion is not a sin. You know why? Because sin is an imaginary disease invented to sell you an imaginary cure.
A quick google tells me there are rather a lot of people called John Allen. I don't know which one of these he is or how exactly he arrived at his conclusions. Leaving aside the fact that a self-proclaimed Catholic (even if only self-proclaiming as 'sort of') is displaying support for same-sex marriage and showing appreciation for the Atheist Quote of the Day page, leaving aside the rejection of God and the downright relativism in the first half of said quote, the part which interests me particularly is the bit about sin being an imaginary disease and its complementary imaginary cure.
I recently blogged about the loss of the sense of sin, which Pius XII identified as the sin of the century, speaking in the USA in 1946. I and my fellow catechist also recently had a complaint from the parent of one of the members of our confirmation group. The underlying issue was that we had spoken regularly about sin and apparently we were supposed to be 'affirming' the young people and not 'making them feel bad about themselves'. Yes, we have talked about sin. Yes, we have talked about the devil. Yes, we have strongly encouraged them to go to confession. (No, we have not greatly succeeded in this and if anyone has any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated.) But I think I can put my hand on my heart and say that when we have talked about sin, we have always, invariably, talked about the love and mercy of God who is always waiting for us to come back to him.
John Allen is right about one thing: without the disease there is no need for a cure. Take away sin and God is worse than imaginary: he is irrelevant and unecesssary. Take away sin and the immeasurable gift of reconciliation is tossed aside as meaningless. (Of course it works both ways: take away God, take away the absolute and we immediately begin to drown in a mire of relativism without the compass of right and wrong.) If I do not recognise my own sinfulness and brokenness, I have no need of God, no need of reconciliation. Without recognising this I cannot recognise the immense love which God lavishes on me, God who made me for love and out of an overabundance of love, and who holds me in being at every moment. As the Exsultet proclaims:
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
Sin is not an imaginary disease, it is a reality which each one of us allows into the world because while we may like to count ourselves as 'OK' or 'better' on the basis that we are not murderers, there are no good sins. It is the root of injustice, poverty, famine, persecution, war, suffering... There are many ways of coming to know God, and I do not think that recognising evil can teach us the existence of abosulte good, but the knowledge of sin and our own sinfulness can help us to know how very much God loves us.