Friday, December 19, 2014
Sin, forgiveness, and the Post Office -- not a love affair
Among the peculiarities of our constitutional arrangement is its indifference to love. A traditional Christian polity would be structured around the common obligation to worship God, a sacrificial act of love, and from that would follow many other obligations to be particularlized by the polity. Our Constitution, however, rooted and limited in the project of power-checking-power -- whatever the respective faiths of the men who framed it -- designedly sidelines love, particularly in the form of public worship. No public worship here, that's for sure. With love goes forgiveness, however. Again, with love goes forgiveness. I confess, therefore, uncertainty about how modern states can do anything involving forgiveness. The suggestion that the Post Office can forgive is risible; it commits a category mistake. But it's not unthinkable, is it, that the governing authority could, one day yet, announce, introduce, and advance the ends of love, including in the form of forgiveness. The sorry, ongoing celebration of pluralism per se could yet yield to a collective life rooted in the truth of love and the forgiveness it alone grounds. Love has become a Hallmark term that almost preempts the field, and so the manifestation of love in the form of forgiveness merits special reconstruction, here in the words of Remi Brague:
A mistake that, perhaps, is even more freighted with consequences [than the mistakes of confusing sin with pleasure or misunderstanding the way in which sin "offends" God] is the one that consists in separating the two terms, "remission" and "sin," which are united in the Christian confession of faith. Once they are separated, the two ideas are placed in a certain order, according to which the idea of sin occupies the first place. A certain Christian apologetics has succumbed to this temptation. It proceeds by attempting to convince man (and above all, "modern man," who is deemed more difficult to convince . . .) that he is a sinner and that he therefore has need of redemption (which, then, would be proposed to him, in second place).  In this optic, one can lament the purported "loss of the sense of sin," as if it complicated the matter, even made it impossible, because depribiving sin of its foundation.
In doing so, one allows oneself to be misled by an analogy. Most often, of course, the evil precedes the remedy, and it is necessary to become aware of the evil in order to experience the need for the remedy. Thus, because I see that my teeth are crooked, I know that I need to go to the dentist. However, the Creed confesses faith in "the remission of sins," not in sin. What is an article of faith is not sin, but rather its remission.
R. Brague, On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others) (St. Augustine's Press, 2013), 144-45.