The church and the deadly sin business

By Glynn Cardy
21 Mar 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins have been given a makeover. Out goes sloth, and in comes pollution. Out goes greed, and in comes poverty. Out goes envy, and in comes drugs. The Vatican in revising Pope Gregory’s 6th century menu has gone contemporary, eco-friendly, and socially just.

Yet before the makeover artists get to work maybe all Christians should pause and consider the sin business. The appropriation of the traditional sins by Hell’s Pizza says more than clever marketing. As most teenagers will tell you Church statements on sin are not to be taken seriously.

It would be better if the Churches gained some integrity by humbly and publicly confessing their own ‘sins’ – those barriers erected over the centuries that make it difficult for 21st century people to relate to the notion of God.

First on the list would be Christianity’s penchant for equating faith in God with believing in impossibilities. Does faith really require us like Carroll’s Queen of Hearts to believe ‘six impossible things before breakfast’?

Related to this is Christianity’s long history of deprecating the insights and wisdom of science. Remember the ridicule and worse suffered by Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. The Church has consistently been dismissive of any inquiry or knowledge that contradicts its own hegemonic worldview.

Third on the list would be the club. The Church has reduced faith in God into a club. To belong not only do you have to behave but also you have to believe the right things. Its members have been defined as ‘right thinkers’ or orthodox, and it’s non-members as ‘wrong thinkers’ or heretics.

In addition Christianity has deemed that some non-members lifestyles and beliefs are so appalling that not only are they to be excluded they are to be vilified and persecuted. Those vilified include gays, lesbians, independent women, Jews, and Muslims.

Christianity has long had a fixation with sex, seeing it as the source of evil. Any sexual behaviour or indiscretion outside of what it considered normative was particularly condemned. The message within the Church’s own tradition that sex is God-given and beautiful has been submerged beneath waves of fear.

Sixth on the list is power, clergy power. Rather than seeing its leaders primarily as facilitators of spiritual inquiry, Christianity created a priesthood that time and again exercised a level of restraint over the community that had little to do with love and grace, and lots to do with status and control.

Lastly, there is the notion of sin itself. The Church turned sin into a business and reaped significant financial rewards. Lashings of guilt, confession, and penance were doled out. It served to bring people down rather than lift them up. It sought to make people dependent and fearful, not independent and fearless.

Rewriting Pope Gregory’s list will not absolve the Christian religion of wrongdoing. While it is fixated on sin Christianity will not address the spiritual needs of our age. Instead the Church needs a makeover.

We need a humbler Church: one that is willing to learn and change; one that understands faith as a human spiritual journey; one that is not fearful of new truths and doesn’t seek to control them; one that values all people regardless of behaviour, beliefs, and background; one that values justice and freedom; and one that is mindful of its power and uses it wisely.

This is a Church whose thinking won’t be reduced to pizza.

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(c) Glynn Cardy is vicar of St Matthews-in-the-City, Auckland, Aotearo / New Zealand. His other articles can be viewed here: http://www.stmatthews.org.nz/nav.php?sid=74

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