Have We Lost the Sense of Sin?
NOT all that long ago, churchgoers regularly heard their preacher thundering from the pulpit against what is termed the “seven deadly sins”—lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. More often than not, the preacher would describe the dire consequences of sin and urge his listeners to repent. “Now,” says one writer, “most religious messages pass over the uncomfortable reality of sin to focus on ‘feel-good’ themes.”
Newspaper columnists have observed the same trend. Following are a few comments from the press:
▪ “The old categories of sin, repentance and redemption are out and the therapeutic language of self-esteem and self-love are in.”—Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio.
▪ “The urgent sense of personal sin has all but disappeared.”—Newsweek.
▪ “We no longer ask ‘What does God require of me,’ but rather, ‘What can God do for me?’”—Chicago Sun-Times.
In today’s pluralistic and tolerant society, people hesitate to make moral judgments. Doing so is not politically correct, we are told. The greatest sin seems to be to judge another person’s actions. Thus, the thinking goes: ‘What you believe might work fine for you, but you really should not try to impose your thinking on anyone else. These days, people organize their life according to differing sets of values. No one has a monopoly on moral truth. Other people’s values are just as valid as yours.’
This kind of reasoning has brought about a change in people’s vocabulary. The word “sin” is now rarely used in serious contexts. For many, it has become a topic for jokes. People are no longer said to “live in sin”; they just “live together.” They are no longer “adulterers”; they are “having an affair.” They are no longer “homosexuals”; they prefer “an alternative lifestyle.”
There is no doubt that what people are prepared to accept as “normal” or condemn as “sin” has changed. But why have attitudes changed? Whatever became of sin? And does it really matter what your view is?