Why do we sin?
Some years ago, I went with a friend to the now-annual St. Michael's college booksale at the University of Toronto. There was a small fee to get in for non-students, and one passed a table set up to collect these at the door. The lady manning the table asked me, "Student?" I rather glibly responded, "I'm a student of human evil, will that do?" She thought I was joking.
I had, by that time, been working in various capacities in the pro-life movement for about six years (it's just coming up to ten now), and I had realised some time before that a great deal of the appeal of this sort of work was my personal fascination with the mystery of human evil. Why do people do what they know is wrong? Why do they persist in holding opinions that are contrary, not only to the moral law, but observable reality? I could not accept the idea that they do so because of the reward of iniquity. The passing pleasure of the moment.
Obviously the most common sins, and the most interesting to us postmoderns, are sexual sins, the 'pelvic issues'. A brief perusal of the history of films will give an idea of just how sex-obsessed we have become in the last 40 years or so. We are inundated with sexual imagery of an explicitness unimaginable to our immediate predecessors, that invade even the most innocent pastimes, just by riding a bus or opening a cooking magazine.
Our public institutions are increasingly dedicated to the pursuit of what is now being called "pansexualism", in which it is regarded as the highest good to ensure the license to insert our parts into whatever orifice in whatever object we happen to fancy. We have whole ranges of products to help us pass the blessings of this new philosophy on to our children at the earliest possible age.
It certainly seems that sexual sins, ever-popular though they may be, are taking up more of our attention than they ever have. Even given that these sins are connected to the strongest biological drive, it seems implausible to me that we would continue to pursue them, even at the possible cost of catching a decidedly nasty, incurable and fatal disease.
C.S. Lewis once compared the sexual obsession of our times, (and he was writing in the '50s) with a similar obsession over food. What if, he postulated, there were commercial establishments where people could pay a fee to watch a full turkey dinner, with all possible fixings, slowly unveiled on a stage? Wouldn't that seem a little odd? Why then doesn't this other thing strike us as similarly odd?
The moral law, biology and common sense teach us that sex is for making babies, and that this activity, for the good of everyone involved, is best carried out within the confines of a stable marriage. It used to go without saying that we all knew what "marriage" meant. What it is for, etc. The fact that sex, and by extension marriage, are designed to create a situation ideal for making and teaching other people is precisely what elevates the sex drive above the need for food. The opposite of marriage and family life, is not singleness, it is not the sexual license to which our entire civilisation has become addicted. The opposite of marriage, childrearing and stable family life is murder. In our case, the wholesale destruction of family life has required, and been replaced by the institution of systematic, government-assisted mass-murder on a simply indescribable scale. If we don't have one, we must have the other.
The first builds up human life. When a man and a woman are joined in marriage, they become "one flesh". One person. I remember Peter Kreeft once pointed out that divorce is a form of suicide because by divorce you kill this two-made-one. The legalisation of divorce has been the first legalisation of assisted suicide. I have long held that the disaster that no sane person can any longer deny we have made of our society started not, as many Catholic believe, with the dissemination of artificial contraceptives, but with the legalisation of divorce.
So much is obvious. But we are in the odd situation where we have to say it out loud. It is not something that anyone seems to remember. The natural is not 'natural' to us any more.
But even the slowest among us, even the most brainwashed and most morally damaged, can, in a moment of reflection, tell at least that the threat of a deadly disease should constitute some kind of check on behaviour. Even if it is only to wear a bit of rubber.
Why then persist?
Why do we sin? And sin to the point of death?
Why, when the Pope, for example, suggests in the mildest possible terms, that it is better to refrain, does he meet with howls of rage that would make a demon blush?
When I started this little reflection, I had a bar of chocolate on my desk. It is now entirely gone. I et it.
I was not feeling terribly well, not having had much in the way of dinner, nor lunch. And it was not the first bar of chocolate I had eaten. I bought two of them, for some reason, and had carried the second one around in my pocket. When I got back to the office, the second bar of chocolate remained in my coat pocket. (The first one disappeared in the first ten minutes after purchase.)
But, as I was writing this, even though I didn't really want it, even though I knew it would make my tummy feel nothing but worse, even though the pleasure on the tongue of dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts was soon to be as if it had never been, with a deliberate will, I pulled it out of my pocket, opened it and ate the whole thing.
And it hasn't made me feel any better. It did precisely what I knew it was going to do. It has made me feel slightly ill and wishing I had eaten nearly anything else. Or nothing.
Why did I eat it?