Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Idiot's Guide to the Arbitrary Levels of Sin

"People take different roads to fulfillment and happiness, just because they are not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost."

A friend from high school, Lacy, posted this as a comment on one of my previous blog entries. I thought it would be appropriate to start this week's entry with it.

Last night I got in an argument for an hour and a half with my mom. I usually call my mom once a week to see how she is doing, tell her about my life, and get any updates on my siblings or their children. These conversations usually last a while as my family is big enough to justify a reality TV show. You know those conversations you have where you make it to the end and think: "how in the flying hell did we get on that topic?" This was most certainly one of those conversations. I called to chit chat and ended in a philosophical debate about my life. In talking with my mom about how I'm not going to heaven because I'm gay, I started to really analyze the concept of sin.

My mother (and I think we all know she is not alone in this) believes in a hierarchy of sin. Most of us do this. Even if you don't believe in sin, everyone has a belief that some things are worse than others. Robbing a convenience store at gunpoint is worse than stealing a pack of gum from the newwstand. This is, in part, a self-comforting tactic we develop: "at least I'm not as bad as that guy."

The problem with sin though is that it is not criminal activities being scaled. Robbing a store at gunpoint is worse than stealing a pack of gum because the gun could potentially kill people and the gum lost $.75 in revenue for that newsstand owner. Sin scaling often involves choices that do not affect other people, least of all those trying to mark our actions on the evil scale. These markings are completely arbitrary in my mind and stem from the need to comfort ourselves in our own actions. "Yeah well, I may drink coffee but you drink alcohol which is worse." Arguments can be made for alcohol being worse than coffee on many grounds (health, mental state, etc.), but if someone has a glass of red wine a day and someone has a cup of coffee a day, there is no real reason for one to be further down the evil scale than the other. We just want to feel better about the coffee, so we demonize something else to redeem our vice by negative comparison.

In speaking with my mother and others, as best as I can surmise, here is the scale of evil (starting at the top with innocent white lies and getting progressively worse):
1. White lies
2. Serious lies
3. Substance abuse
4. Theft
5. Premarital sex
6. Adultery
7. Rape
8. Murder
9. Molestation
10. Gayness/Serial murder (the two can often be used interchangeably, just in case you were wondering).
**I am starting to hear, "well I mean I'm not saying you're a child molester." So 9 and 10 can swap.

Now the reason I call this scaling of sin arbitrary is because, to me anyway, some of these make no sense. Why is it that being in a consensual gay relationship is more evil than harming a child? It could be that I'm so far down the evil scale my brain has ceased functioning, but I doubt it. Another reason for calling sin scaling arbitrary is that all of these can be altered to suite the comfort of the scaler. Being gay is the worst thing possible (obviously since in my mother's mind it is compared with serial murder) but being gay is not the worst thing as long as I keep it hidden, marry a woman, have children, and do my little thing in secret on the side.This moves gay up to the same level as adultery (whew, that was a close one. At least now I'm above a serial killer and a child molester). By lying and cheating on a wife and raising children in a loveless home, I would have successfully jumped three full redemption points.

This brings me back to my opening quote. "People take different roads to fulfillment and happiness, just because they are not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost." I'm not saying sin does not exist and that there are not spiritual consequences to some of our actions. I DO believe that having an absolute good to aspire to (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) and an absolute evil to avoid (Hitler, Satan, etc.) can help people move forward in their pursuit of perfection. A moral compass is good. Just, please people, stop using your own arbitrary compass to tell others they are off the map. Jesus Christ taught to first look at ourselves before we place another on our own evil/good scale. Before nailing down someone else on our own number line of sin, maybe we should look at our own placement. Better yet, maybe we should ask what purpose placing them on our scale serves. In the end, most of us are somewhere in the middle and arguing otherwise and that your particular number line is the most accurate does no one any good.

So, in closing, I guess I have this to say. Mom, I know you want the best for me. I know as a mother it must be hard to watch your children deviate from what made you happy. I am happy though. It may not be the way you found happiness, but it is happiness. You need to know that I am not going to change things just to help you feel that I'm increasing in value on your arbitrary scale. I'm glad where you are at on yours, please leave me alone on mine and let's just talk about something else the next time I call, mmmmmmkay.

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