View from the Pew
Recent events put sin back in the spotlight
Can you believe it, sin was in the headlines twice this week.
No, no, we're not talking about the substance of sin. That's the daily fare in news coverage. Look at the police and courts stories. What we call crimes of murder, assault and theft were acts forbidden in religions' texts and secularized as common law and cultural codes long before someone started numbering them in the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
Read about politics and sin is there, although often cloaked in language that obfuscates. This week it was as clear as it gets in the daily dose about sex scandal. Never mind his fall from crusader to fool, there was an agonized wife and their wedding vow standing at his elbow when the cameras rolled. Global electronics pinned a big A in the middle of that guy's chest, a la "The Scarlet Letter."
Of course there's coverage of sin in many other guises as you page through the stories on entertainment, business takeovers, international diplomacy, government malfunctions, right back through the classified ads. Dare we whistle that ancient tune "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie"?
We're talking about sin, the word. I doubt it's a word that Hawaii's loquacious Congressman Neil Abercrombie uses often. But, if you missed it, Abercrombie appealed to a Catholic Church official to put the stamp of sin on the practice of torture. In a letter to Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, Abercrombie asked for "a statement as to whether the use or support for the use of torture as an instrument of state policy is a mortal sin."
Earlier in the week Girotti, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican agency that deals with matters of conscience, put a modern spin on sin by talking about "violations of the basic rights of human nature." He said sin has a "social resonance" beyond just an individual act.
The new list, according to Girotti, included genetic modification, human experimentation, polluting the environment and exploiting mind-changing drugs.
I totally get it that Abercrombie grasped one more chance to continue the debate and to slam President Bush for vetoing legislation that would have banned the CIA from using harsh interrogation measures such as waterboarding on suspected terrorists. The bill was passed earlier this month, and Bush wasted no time in vetoing it.
Pretty devious of Abercrombie to try to pin a label of sinner on the man who loves to claim possession of the morality measuring tape.
Don't expect a quick response from the Vatican, though. The Catholic Church has its own history of using waterboarding. It's not something the modern church tries to hide, but it's a shameful chapter of its past. Torture was used by the infamous Spanish Inquisition in the 1400s as a tool to persuade people -- mostly Jews and Muslims -- to renounce "heresy" and embrace Christian belief.
One last thing to know about sin is that it's not a list to memorize. It's not a big red S that some other person, agency, religious organization or the bright spotlight of public attention pins on you. It's not about being scared and skulking before a judge or the Judge and knowing you're really going to get slammed because someone caught you.
It's damage you did to yourself. It's distance you put between yourself and God or whatever you call the divine. And it's never too late to change.