A good question

“Why do people sin, grandma?”

It was not my grandma. I was not asking the question. Rather the questioner was a child of seven, I think; perhaps six. She was not being catechized. Rather, it was a deep philosophical question, I was overhearing on a Toronto trolley. Grandma paused, looked bored, then gave a passable answer:

“Because it is possible, dear.”

This was a good start for a slightly older, more annoying child; and it came too quickly. As it was not my child, or my grandmother, I hesitated to intrude with an alternative, imperfect answer. My thought was: Hasn’t this little girl been told the Story of Genesis?

Yet, as so often, the facetious answer had some merit. It assumed an essentially Christian “worldview,” or Judaeo-Christian if you will. But unacknowledged. Like grandma, many of us still have it today, without knowing we still have it, or admitting it to ourselves. We take it invisibly for granted, as left from right, up from down, &c. We might reject specific Christian assertions, one by one, and the overall structure may be in ruin; but like an archaeological site, it is still there — being converted gradually into a parking lot.

Gentle reader may think I am exaggerating, but I ride the trolley almost every day. I overhear things, whether I wish to or not. I began this Idlepost with words overheard. Usually it is half of a conversation with a “smartphone”; often expletives are plentiful; sometimes I overhear the commission of a crime, such as a drug deal. But sometimes one overhears a child, asking a deep philosophical question, “triggered” by the acquisition of a new word. She will or won’t be treated as a nuisance.

I have also heard confessions, made casually into the phone. They might even be the sort that should be taken to a priest, and would be if the penitent were a “practising” Catholic. But more often they are instead exhibitions, put into a vaguely confessional form. The speaker is advertising his sin, showing no remorse, and piling on, by expressing his intention to do it again.

This is beyond joking, as a gory traffic accident is beyond joking, just after it occurs. We may not have a well-developed moral sense (in our society today), but we are oversensitive to icky. Or so one might guess from facial expressions. Abortion, for instance, might be called “a woman’s right,” but a photograph of baby parts will surely be denounced.

What impressed me with the little girl was her use of a new word, “sin.” Where did she get this? I wouldn’t think in school. It is not a category in modern thought, and it reeks of religion. This is assumed to be a recent phenomenon, yet even half a century ago I was being taught by self-appointed moral guardians that our real problem was not sin, but guilt. According to hippie philosophy, consciousness of sin was neurotic, and ought to be suppressed. The kids were doing their best to suppress it.

Notwithstanding, the category of “evil” survived. The view of what was good and what evil was being rotated, but on the same old wheel.

The grandmother, mentioned above, was of my own generation: one of us late Boomers. There was a Generation X in there somewhere, then Millennials, now something else is coming along. As I recall, each generation has slighted the one before, for fairly good reasons and with a soup├žon of justice. For all of these generations are defective, and have been, going back to our common Ancestor. The only easy progress is in ignorance. All steeped in sin, and still steeping.

Because, so long as we breathe, it is possible.

Yet there are other possibilities. The challenge with this “new generation” is to explain, first, how we came to be in prison, but next, how to break out.