It is a little known fact, that the world is full of sinners. In the past, this was better understood. One of the strangest things I encounter, is my “secular” friends. Knowing me for a religious nutjob, and themselves often vaguely conscious of being what is called “lapsed,” they start speaking to me as if I were some sort of priest. They answer questions that I have not asked. Often they tell me, that they are good people, that they’ve never, or at least not recently, done anything very wrong. Sometimes this is followed with some glib self-assurance, that God is also good and they will go to heaven. It is as if they were arriving at the customs post, and choosing the row for “nothing to declare.” Were I a customs inspector, I’d look at the face and search the bags immediately.
Everyone, including every Buddhist I’ve met (born Asian, not fake ones) has a sense of sin. This can be easily established if you listen to them. The more neurotic make themselves easy to read; the more psychotic less so, but in their case just watch what they are doing. There are moments when I prefer the psychotics: for while they override their inner restraints, they seem to know what a sin is.
The modern tactic, for dealing with sin, is more neurotic than psychotic. The guilt remains, but the sin is denied. It would be invidious to take any one of the Seven Deadlies for my example: let us just say they take all the time they could spend repenting, instead convincing themselves that it was not a sin. That it couldn’t be, because “it didn’t hurt anybody,” or at worst, no one who would find out. For the purposes of that definition, “oneself” doesn’t count.
Euthanasia is growing in popularity, because to the modern sin-evading mind, suicide could not possibly be a crime. For one thing, how do you punish a person who has committed suicide? Traditionally, by burying him outside the churchyard; but the concept of “churchyard” doesn’t exist any more, except among a few of my fellow religious fanatics. For another: the only victim is “oneself,” and as I just explained, “oneself” doesn’t count. He ends his suffering in this world, and having spent the time required to convince himself there can be no next one, the case is closed.
Curiously people who attempt “unassisted” suicide — and I’ve met several people who attempted that — report some compunction about the people who’d have to clean up afterwards. One gentleman recalled that, in the moment before he turned himself not into the corpse he’d intended, but rather into a paraplegic, he felt a twinge of empathy for emergency service workers. I inwardly congratulated him on the fineness of his sensibility.
We see this also in expressions of spontaneous moral outrage, even in the media. The reporter is appalled to discover that daddy hanged himself where his children might find him. (And did.) There must have been something wrong about that. The kids might be “scarred” in some way, seeing their daddy hanging so, with his face all puffy and discoloured and all-round weird. Yet on a reductio absurdum of contemporary thinking, they should take it in their stride. Daddy’s little “statement” only hurt himself. Maybe, use it as an inspiration for their next Hallowe’en costume, for their teachers like to encourage creativity.
As a hack myself, I reach for the dramatic example, but I could as well tone it down. There are sins less dramatic than suicide. Most everyday sinning comes with no drama at all. (One thinks of the flatterers who coined, “No drama Obama.”) With practice, it becomes a matter of course. Any guilt associated with a repetitive act, becomes sublimated to the point where it is unreachable by the conscious mind. It is like a callousing so thick, that little pinprick punctures communicate no pain. Yet the same body might still suddenly react to a deeper incision.