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Pope Francis reminds us that sin is real

Increasingly, the concept has been replaced by 'therapeutic culture'

  • Anne Hendershott for Catholic World Report
  • International
  • January 28, 2014
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In his first homily, given on March 14th, Pope Francis cautioned the faithful that “he who does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil”.

“When we do not profess Jesus Christ,” he further insisted, “we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”

Since that day, he has spoken often of the one he has called the “prince of this world,” and the “father of lies.” And, in the book, On Heaven and Earth, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio devoted an entire chapter to “The Devil”, warning that Satan’s fruits are “destruction, division, hatred and calumny”.

For many Catholics – especially post-Vatican II Catholics – speaking aloud of evil, sin, and Satan is something they may never have experienced, even in Church. Some may have to resort to the Internet (or dictionary) to look up a definition of calumny. It seems that after a long hiatus, evil and sin have been “rediscovered” by some.

More than sixty years ago, T. S. Eliot wrote about the sense of alienation that occurs when social regulators begin to splinter and the controlling moral authority of a society is no longer effective. He suggested that a “sense of sin” was beginning to disappear.

In his play, The Cocktail Party, a troubled young protagonist visits a psychiatrist and confides that she feels “sinful” because of her relationship with a married man. She is distressed not so much by the illicit relationship, but rather, by the strange sense of sin. Eliot writes, “Having a sense of sin seems abnormal” to her – she had never noticed before that such behavior might be seen in those terms. She believed that she had become “ill”.

Writing in 1950, Eliot knew that the language of sin was declining even then, yet most of us would assume that the concept of sin was still strong. Looking back though, it seems that for many, the sense of sin was already beginning to be replaced by an emerging therapeutic culture.

Within that growing culture of “liberation”, people no longer viewed themselves as sinful when they drank too much, took drugs, or engaged in violent or abusive behaviors. Rather, such actions were increasingly viewed as indicators that such individuals were victims of an illness they had little or no control over.

Promoted by the psychological community and popularized by practitioners like Carl Rogers, the therapeutic mentality began seeping into the Church as psychologists began advising Catholic dioceses about implementing the therapeutic culture within the Church itself.

Seminarians were instructed to move away from making judgments about others, and instead, use the language of illness and therapy. Suicide was no longer a sin that deprived the victim of Christian burial, rather, it was evidence of sickness. Drug and alcohol abuse were no longer character flaws or the result of choices, rather they were evidence of a defective gene pool that “forced” the victim into the illness of substance abuse.

Sociologists, who understand better than most how deviant behavior becomes defined and re-defined, began paying attention to the culture shift. Sociologist Philip Rieff, an expert on the thought of Freud, warned in his now-classic book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, that “psychological man” was beginning to replace “Christian man” as the dominant character type in our society.

Unlike traditional Christianity, which made moral demands on believers, the secular world of “psychological man” rejected both the idea of sin and the need for salvation.” Speaking of a “sense of sin”, an “occasion of sin”, or sinfulness itself was no longer allowed.

Perhaps this is why it is so unusual to experience the revival of the language of sin now that Pope Francis actually speaks of “real” sins, not just metaphorical ones. Speaking of specific sins – sins like calumny – that we may have learned about long ago, but have forgotten about, Pope Francis has begun the process of chipping away at the therapeutic culture in the Church and beyond. And as he reminds us of sin, he reminds us that there is evil—real evil—in the world and in our lives, with a real entity called Satan as the source of this evil.

Full story: Satan, sin and sociology

Source: The Catholic World Report

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