Philosopher and author, Alan Watts on Christianity in his scathing lecture ‘Sex and the Church’ – ‘Christianity has institutionalized guilt. As a virtue’.
I am not a church-y guy. But the other day I found myself transfixed (like a car accident where you can’t look away) with one of those Sunday morning Evangelical shows on cable TV. The pasty and paunchy preacher spouted on about ‘Sin’, ‘Absolution’, ‘God’s Remorse’. ‘God’s Forgiveness’, ‘the Sacrament of Confession’.
Usually this would just make me roll my eyes and change the channel. But this time, I felt ‘triggered’ by what was being said; and particularly bothered by this idea of ‘sin’. I had, of course, heard of sin thousands of times. But I hadn’t ever examined the implications of a belief structure where it is a central concept. After all, many people go to church in earnest looking for ways to heal, and means to help them improve their lives. And, what they are often being taught about is their sinfulness.
While I personally did not suffer religious wounding (other than the pervasive Christian cultural dominance in the collective unconscious of much of the Western world) many of my clients have. And I believe that the idea of ‘sin’, as it is traditionally understood, is not only antithetical to healing, but can lead to continued fragmentation, confusion, and disempowerment.
People who have experienced emotional wounding, neglect, trauma etc. often have a deep sense that there is something inherently wrong, dirty or shameful about them. Negative personal decisions they have made and life experiences that they have attracted because of their negative core beliefs, become a further source of embarrassment and shame.
Healing is best approached from a strength-based perspective – one in which the client is being guiding to their already healed self.
Implied in the concept of ‘sin’ is judgment. And judgment (naming those bad things that we have done or that we are) is not only unhelpful, but potentially extremely damaging.
Judgment contributes to the deep inner conflict between who we actually are (perfect and whole) and who we mistakenly think ourselves to be (broken, unlovable, lost etc).
Furthermore, the notion that only someone with specific credentials and some kind of ‘pipeline’ to God’s mercy (The Confessor) can absolve another from the badness that they are, does nothing but help to support an individual sense of powerlessness.
Those on the healing path need a perspective opposite from sin. No matter what mistaken, improper choices have made, no matter the level of ignorance that has led to those choices, no matter how ‘low’ we have ever been, no matter what the ‘sin’, we were always innocent.
We are always, in any given moment, doing our best.
Aligning with this idea creates acceptance and inclusiveness. It teaches us that the best place to be is exactly where we are. Only then can one begin to work with ourselves in a different way.
Even those who commit atrocities or create great suffering do so out of a kind of fear and ignorance that begs understanding and compassion, not judgment. Taking responsibility for the negativity in one’s life comes not from the ‘forgiveness’ offered by the male (always male), all-knowing great Papa-in-the-sky-God. But rather, from a sense that we can acknowledge our mistakes, see and hold our confusion and pain with love, and reclaim our innocence.
Engaging in ‘sin talk’ opens us to the corruptible; to every aspect that is abhorrent about organized religion. A sin to whom? Who decides what is a sin? A sin in the context of a particular culture or religious structure? A ‘mortal’ sin or just an ‘everyday’ sin? Is it a sin to kill Hitler? Capitol punishment? Alternative sexuality? Stealing when your children are starving? What a women does with her body? It’s all a slippery slope.
The notion of sin leaves no room for the unknowable. It projects a human understanding and logic unto God; and worse, a human sense of justice. And whatever this is depends, of course, on what one’s individual sense of justice is. Carolyn Myss (author of ANATOMY OF THE SPIRIT): ‘If we are just, then God must be ALL just. If we are loving, then God must be ALL loving. If we are moral than God must be ALL moral, but times a hundred!
Everything is reduced to good/bad, black/white, nice/not nice.
But within our mistakes, foibles, and sufferings (our sins) are jewels of directionality that help to light our way. They are opportunities to help remind us of what we have forgotten – our inherent divinity.
While Christianity is not my path, I am totally on board with the ‘these things and more you can do’ school of Christianity. This means direct revelation from the Christ, as the Christ. We have the power, because we are the power.
The alternative view is guilt. And guilt, as far as I am concerned, is extremely over-rated.