It seems that the Vatican has been tinkering with the notion of sin. It’s about time. There was a recent suggestion by a bishop from the Vatican’s “office of sin and penance” (I think Unitarian Universalists could use such an office, actually–more on this later), in which sins such as trashing God’s green earth (corporate polluters) and robbing the poor (economic inequity) should be recognized along with the usual bread-and-butter individual sins.
I say “about time,” because far more pain and suffering are caused by these systemic sins than by the paltry seven deadly sins conjured up in the medieval period. Do you even know what these are, my friends? I confess I had to look them up myself, to get all seven. They are: lust, gluttony, pride, envy, anger, avarice, and sloth.
Think about it–how does a little lust compete with a tobacco company’s lies? How does just a pinch of envy measure up against a manufacturer of land mines? Give me the individual sins any day, compared to the systemic.
And as far as Unitarian Universalists go, a cursory look at the seven deadlies tells us that this list is just not suitable for us. These are just not our big sins.
In fact, we could do with a little more of some of these. Take lust, for instance. We could be more embodied, more passionate. Can you imagine anyone saying, “Now those Unitarians, they’re a lusty lot”? And how about anger? We like to repress ours–after all, we wouldn’t want to appear unseemly or impolite. Another of the seven we could use more of is sloth. Sloth–what an appealing sin! But Unitarian Universalists are worker bees, doing one project after the next. I know every time I attempt to be slothful, I just become paralyzed with guilt and remorse.
Actually, though, our paramount sin, our really big one, is in fact one of the deadly seven–it is pride. We believe that we can think our way to salvation instead of depending upon mercy and grace. Too often we are self-righteous, disregarding our own moral and ethical failings, and thinking of ourselves as just a cut above the rest.
There is one main reason why black churches are so exciting, so full of passion, on Sunday morning–you see, people who are hurting, people who are oppressed, know know they need one another and know they need God. Too often Unitarian Universalist services can be emotionally dead places, because UU’s think that we are in control (and we are so very wrong); and we think that man is the measure of things (just the measure of little things); and we think that we don’t desperately need one another (and we do), and we think that we don’t need God (because we’d rather split theological hairs than humble ourselves and pray).
My grandmother, who read her big black Bible daily, and outloud, used to say, “Pride is the only unforgivable sin.” As a child, I never understood her. Now I think I do. Pride is the only sin, you see, that irrevocably separates us from God–it is the sin of putting ourselves in the place of God. And it follows that we then separate ourselves also from others and sever those bonds of compassion that make us one.
So I suggest that we Unitarian Universalists have an office of sin and repentance, too. But of course we couldn’t use that language, since many UU’s don’t believe that sin even exists–just bad parenting. We could call our office something like “Office for the Support of the Morally Gifted.” Yes, it’s a euphemism, but hey you do what you’ve got to do.