You know what’s a sin?
People who think they can look at someone and tell if they are a sinner. In the end, that judgment is up to God and God alone.
All we mortals can do is to determine who is dangerous to the social order. Sometimes that’s easy — we know that people who have murdered others are dangerous and need to be dealt with — and sometimes that’s very hard. Are homosexual people dangerous to the social order? Should they be “dealt with?”
It’s one thing looking at someone’s actions against another to determine who is dangerous. People who physically harm others without consent or people who take property without informed consent should be looked at for danger. That’s what a trial does — uses a set of laws to determine who is guilty and how they should be punished.
It’s another thing altogether when we look at someone’s character to determine if they are dangerous, but that’s what so many people do. We look at another to make the most common judgment people make: Where is this person too much, and where are they not enough?
Think about it. “Too much” and “not enough” is the basis of most judgments that humans make. “Well, they are just too rude, too dramatic, too quiet, too rich. They need to be more civil, more appropriate, more vocal, more humble.”
“Too much” and “not enough” is the where we set the bounds of community. “To be one of us, you can’t be too much this or not enough that, so you better change to meet our expectations or be shunned and shamed.” It doesn’t matter if the community believes in fundamentalist Christian values or radical activist values, the judgment is always the same: “How is this person too much, how are they not enough?”
The arrogance of that judgment, though, is when you decide that people who are “too much” or “not enough” for your tastes are sinners. This has always been the tool of religious repression, be it the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Crusaders who rode into Jerusalem. “They are not enough like me, too much like who I choose to hate, so they are sinners, and my God gives me the right to smite them.”
The laws of the country are not meant to punish sin. The laws of this country are not even meant to enforce morality. They are meant to maintain social order, nothing more, nothing less. For many believers who want the world to be more like what they wish it to be, this seems like a bad idea. After all, shouldn’t we be shaping morality though every means possible? It seems like a bad idea, of course, until they see a country where laws are designed to enforce morality and punish sin, and people like them are being prosecuted and persecuted for their own choices. Some don’t get this lesson. They think their beliefs are the only right ones, and as long as people like them make the choices, everything will be OK. We can only hope they figure out that whoever is in power there has the same belief. Conservatives who say “Get the government out of my bedroom, and get it into theirs,” are not conservatives at all, they are moralists plain and simple.
This is not to say that morality is not required in a democracy. In fact, morality is at the heart of democracy, even more than laws. Laws are only the backstop to catch those people who have harmed others, not the rules for appropriate behavior. If laws are the only controls, what you have is a police state and not a democracy, and that is something few of us want.
Can you look at someone and judge whether they are a sinner? You may be able to judge that they have participated in acts you think are sinful, but they may consider that you have participated in acts they think are sinful, maybe even according to their reading of the same scripture. Poly-cotton blends may just be unholy, you know. You can’t however determine they are a sinner — only God holds that privilege.
What you can determine is how they challenge social order; either the order that exists now, the status quo, or the order that you wish would exist. This idea, for example, is at the heart of political correctness, where people who speak in a way that contradicts some abstract ideals are deemed sinners, and are then exposed to the shunning and shaming of the group in order to get them back into line.
For those of us, though, who honor the call of our creator, who are reborn in every moment, we know that the most challenging thing we face is when people judge us as “too much,” or judge us as “not enough.” That pressure to be small and appropriate rather than real, honest and the servant of an empowering God can be stifling. It is, I suspect what Chesterton meant when he said, “The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
To move beyond the fear that we will be “too much” or “not enough,” and be shamed and shunned because of that, we have to drop our judgments about others who we may have felt are “too much” or “not enough.” We don’t get the luxury of asking people not to judge us, and then expect the right to judge others.
To be willing to withhold judgment on “too much/too little” means being willing to step away from group mores and group pressure and be willing to accept people as individuals, each with their own calling. It means judging people on the simple criteria if what they say and what they do is in harmony. The righteous person is one who’s public and private lives are in accord, beyond hypocrisy and twisted thinking which violates the golden rule by assuming one rule for me and one for others. She stands for what she stands for.
In society, this can often be very hard. We are asked speak for that which we don’t even try to live, to hold others to standards and expectations we ourselves cannot meet. This twists our thinking, creating closets, creating those who try to achieve standing in the community not by their own good acts but instead by attacking what they claim the be the excesses and deficits of others — where others are “too much” or “not enough.” Rather than leading by example, they enforce with fear, trying to use the power of judgment to maintain a social order that oppresses the diversity and truth across all creation.
Too much is not enough, for enough only comes when we walk in righteousness by using our sweat to reveal the truth of our creation, make transformative art of our lives by co-creating them with God. It is when we can move beyond the fear of stigma, shunning and shaming which comes from the judgment of others that we can be clear and true in our own lives and our own relationship with God.
It’s a sin when you believe that you can look at someone and tell they are a sinner — even if that someone is you. And when you judge another on anything but how they act towards others, you judge yourself, putting barriers up between you and the potential you hold.
After all, isn’t succumbing to social pressure and then not doing what you know to be right a sin?