Monday, March 29, 2010

The Poison We Call "Sin"

So this morning I've had a few moments to think about the depth to sin. I don't say that meaning "oh, yes, sin is sooo deep, so cool," in the sense that is often used these days when we compliment someone by telling them how deep and mysterious they are. I'll argue the complete opposite for sin, it isn't mysterious at all. By depth, I mean it in the sense that it can pull us in so tightly, to the point that our lips are barely gracing the surface of the water to give us breath.

Anyway, so as I was dreaming away I was awoken by a fist pounding on a door. I thought to myself, "Oh no, I've slept in," because I figured it was my mom banging on my little brother's door to wake him up for one of his classes. So I stared up at my ceiling wondering and listening: I knew I'd learn the truth of the situation given a little time. Yes, it was my mom pounding on the door, and yes, she was trying to wake him up.. But for a reason I didn't expect.

I confess myself gullible. I've been told by a few people I'm not really that close to that they've noticed I tend to "look for the good in people." I work hard at developing that because it's such a rarity in our times. I suppose it means something when someone shouts at another to wake up, bangs on their door and I don't automatically jump to the conclusion that one of them must have done something wrong. Well, that's what I did this morning. Which is why my thoughts on sin seem so revelatory.

As the situation progressed I learned that my mom had had some money in her jacket pocket and that in the course of the early morning, it had gone missing. My mom's main reason for believing my brother had taken the money was due to the fact that the kid keeps such strange hours! It seems to me that he's awake during all hours of the night and early morning, but I won't see him at all during the day until around supper-time. Anyway, the conversation they were having turned to undertones after she demanded he give her the money. It's all the same to me: it left me to my thoughts.

And the collection of those thoughts can be summed up relatively nicely in a single, short sentence: sin is poison. Afterward, before hearing my mom walk down the stairs, I heard her explain why that money had been in her pocket: she needed to pay for parking at the hospital. I don't know if I should given my previous admission, but I assume that if my brother had known that he wouldn't have touched the money, not because he'd eventually get caught, but because innately he is a good person.

No one is perfect, and I'm not posting this experience to show how flawed my sibling is. I could never make the claim that I've never stolen anything, money or possessions; that I've never lied about stealing something or to cover up some stupid thing I had chosen to do. That's a beautiful truth though: we choose.

So as I lay there I wondered something: when do you get to the point where although your initial sin was the width of a string, the sins you commit now are thicker than bound thread (think friendship bracelet width). Why don't we recognize we've fallen down a path that leads to greater sin?

To borrow a metaphor that I've often heard within (but also outside of) the Church, sin is like a frog in a pot. We're taught that Satan, mankind's adversary operates much in this way: when you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it jumps out. However, when you place that frog in a pot of cold water and turn up the heat, it will sit in that water until it boils to death. Gruesome, no? The adversary is similar in that he would never try to prompt me, an active Church member (saying prayers, reading scriptures daily, attending sacrament and other Sunday meetings, youth meetings weekly, etc.), to break the Law of Chastity. That's just a silly thing to suggest to someone in my position. A much better temptation, to get me down that road would be something like this: when I encounter an unclaimed bus ticket for the month, tell me I should pick it up and use it - it would save me money on fares, plus, I could still ask people for bus fare without actually needing it so I could save it for my mission.
Strange, no? Well, remembering what my goals are and what covenants I've made, although it may be a little difficult to say "no," it's do-able. That was an actual experience I had earlier this month, and I puzzled about it for awhile: steal so I could put the funds towards a mission? Such is how the adversary works. He's a walking contradiction.

Back to the topic at hand. The depth of sin: how do you take a child who is innocent and honest, and within a handful of years turn them into a thieving liar. Harsh words that I don't direct at anyone, but how is it done? The frog in the pot idea.

During the 179th General Conference, a talk was given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (I don't understand why it's so hard for some people to say his surname!) in which he said this: "...what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become."

During a poster sale held in the concourse of my college, I was tempted to buy a poster that reminded me of President Uchtdorf's words: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

So it doesn't seem too far-fetched that I've come to this conclusion, but you can't take a little kid and turn them into anything. That kid can however, through poor choices, turn themselves into a thieving liar. Whether you're religious or not, I'm sure it's no stretch to accept the fact that there are things which should not be done.

If we use the logic that things which aren't good for people or the society we're in then they shouldn't be done. Simple logic. If it's bad for you, don't do it: For example, drugs have negative effects on people: they should not be used. If you believe marijuana has no adverse effects, but is illegal in your country, you shouldn't smoke it. Stealing has a negative effect on the person being stolen from, it shouldn't be done.

In addition, I'm grateful that we don't just have to rely on societal laws to determine what's good for us and what isn't.

So the next time someone says, "I stole that because I had to," or, "you made me do it," just gently remind them that you can't make them do anything (or I'm sure you'd have made them not do whatever thing was objectionable), and that they're in charge of who they are, what they become.

I can't just finish here. I can't just say, "if you're a failure it's your own fault." There is some kind of solution, isn't there?

Knowing someone who is in the 12-step program for Alcoholics Anonymous, I know that there are several steps that require the person in the program to make amends. Step 8 requires the person to make a list of all the people they've harmed and be willing to make amends. Step 9 requires that they then make amends.

So how do you fix the negative things you've done? If you believe in the Atonement of Christ then you ask him for forgiveness in full sincerity of heart, and be resolved to not repeat that mistake or transgression. If you don't believe in Christ, then just follow what those in the AA-program do. Make your list, apologize and acknowledge to those you've hurt what you've done to harm them, and then make restitution if possible (pay them back the money you stole, buy them a new stereo to replace the one you busted, whatever). The AA-program is designed in such a way that once someone commits to it, they aren't allowed to drink again. Ever. I think the final secular step in restitution is the same as the one that involves the Atonement: resolve yourself to not repeat those base choices again. If you get back into the cycle that brought you to where you were before you sought forgiveness, you really haven't "quit" that habit, and therefore through your misdeeds have lost the forgiveness you had had before.

Grim topic.


Codex said...

You make some very good points and leave quite a few good thoughts in my brain for me to contemplate. I had a discussion on the study of psychology and sociology (not exactly the same subject, I know - bare with me!) with a professor of mine the other week in which we discussed how we can ever hope to make our field of study scientific. We can't be objective about it; if we were to be as such, we'd have to separate ourselves from humanity - become something more or less than human in order to understand what a human was and how it thought and interacted.

I think this goes the same for "sin," and I use the term simply because you used it - you know I'm a little skeptical about religion though I don't deny anyone the right to believe - the instant you commit a negative action, or sin, you become blinkered by it and cannot see past the restriction. You become a subculture, a self segregated part of the community which, even if you started down the path based on good intentions, you forget that the best intentions don't just concern you.

Now, I've only just woken up, so the above may not make too much sense (at 8 am, ergh, I have not woken up this early in some time)but, simply put, you have made some very interesting points that I will mull over the rest of today :)

Tephrochr said...

Despite the morning grogginess, it does make sense - we're really "blinded" in some form or another by all of our experiences. That's a big factor that plays into my love of children. They're so free to see whatever they want that they do often see more than adults.
Thanks for the insight, and I'm glad you'll be contemplating for awhile!