The four more years of the administration of George W. Bush is well underway. Echoes of the concern by pundits over the two Americas, divergent cultures, and the need for seeking unity within the nation still may be heard. One manner of describing this separateness would be to categorize Americans either as favoring the common good over the individual or the individual over the common good. From a spiritual viewpoint, one may state that there are those who spell sin with capital letters and those who spell sin using the lower case and placed within quotation marks.
Characteristic of this latter group is a strong aversion to the word no. Denying or delaying any desire, pleasure, or acquisition is anathema to the secular philosophy. Self-fulfillment is the only heaven. Justice and equality are noble quests, but not to the detriment of personal goals. God, faith, and sin must not become stumbling-blocks to living life as independently and as narcissistically as possible. Rationalism and relativism rule the day. And judgment is as loathsome a term as no. No wonder that values supporting community, family, and marriage are brought before the executioner. Lost is the impulse that sacrifice and abnegation exercised for the benefit of others have produced the foundation of what is named - civilization.
It is impossible to ignore the extent to which civilization is built up on renunciation of instinctual gratification, the degree to which the existence of civilization presupposes the non-gratification (suppression, repression, or something else?) of powerful instinctual energies.
- Freud (1930)
Those who fail to recognize or to accept themselves as children of God understandably view the concept of sin as the biocidal invention of an intrusive divinity. Acknowledging sin would controvert the duty of attaining gratification and self-awareness without self-examination. Examples of this pursuit may be found in the penchant of some celebrities to trumpet a particular "cult" practice or quasi-spiritual methodology as the pathway to personal fulfillment. The attraction - power and self-validation - is that which drew the ancient Gnostics to such beliefs. There seems to be no limit to the inventive ways of packaging the conviction held by many a human being that he or she is God. Such is the oldest of superstitions.
American society is fond of being characterized as free and tolerant. At first blush, freedom and tolerance seem to be admirable traits deserving of universal approbation. However, those who are thoughtful would concur that these qualities need definition and reasonable application. There are many acts a human being can engage in that must not be tolerated by any society. No one has the right to commit crimes or other behaviors inimical to the well-being of a community while defending them as the mere exercise of their individual freedoms. Even on a global level, people of good will rebel against those governments perpetrating policies that would be categorized as crimes against humanity. Individually, there are innumerable thoughts, words, and deeds that would be better left not thought, not spoken, or not done. Ideas of freedom and tolerance that ignore the dark side of human nature invite moral chaos. In my opinion, any mode of government or philosophy which advocates a paralysis of conscience in the name of freedom and tolerance unleashes the powers of sin and inhumanity. The benefits of a prominent system of faith and values that provides the practitioner times or seasons for self-examination and spiritual growth are inestimable.
Lent is a time of enlightenment for the soul. Evil is exposed as a devouring beast. Human nature, so easily seduced by sin's siren song, is called to repentance and renewal. During this time, one becomes engaged in the hopeful struggle against sin and death toward the light of Easter. Thus, Lent writes sin large so that God's people may know it for what it is, what it has done, and what it must no longer do.
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