“In this age of moral inversion, we have lost sight of the wisdom of the ancients which tells us that it is the well-ordered man who makes the good society, not the well-ordered society that makes the good man.”
Navigating the modern moral landscape is a complicated task today. Personal sins are like tributaries that flow into a raging river of social sin threating to overflow their banks and flood the moral planes of the good society. To suggest that the lines of moral propriety have been blurred would be an understatement in our present climate of licentiousness. We have lost sight of the relationship between personal and social sin. There is a growing emphasis on “social sin” which is becoming a larger distraction from a rightful focus on our personal sin.
The passing generations reveal an increasing shift from a contemplation of internal concerns of character enacted by the moral habits mind to emotional responses to the world around us. We are swept up in pathological considerations of how people “feel” about things. We refer not to the objective standard of truth but to the shifting sands of emotion as they impact the appearances of things. We are much less concerned about offending God and more concerned about not hurting the feelings of our neighbors. Although we are called to love our neighbors, we have lost sight of how to do this charitably if our concern for them is wrapped up in our desires for human respect. It is a spiritual work of mercy to provide fraternal correction to our brothers and sisters who sin, but this is increasingly seen as hostile bigotry in our darkening world.
In this age of moral inversion, we have lost sight of the wisdom of the ancients which tells us that it is the well-ordered man who makes the good society, not the well-ordered society that makes the good man. We have inverted our focus from our personal sins to focusing on “social sin” as an answer to our spiritual problems. The results of this shift are devastating. Of course “social sin” is real but we must salvage the concept from the “social justice” folks who reduce this idea to the material concerns of material poverty and unfair wages.
There is no doubt that “unfair wages” is a sin that cries out to heaven, but this social sin is subordinate to the much bigger social sins against life such as abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and transgender issues. To get the order of personal and social sin right we must heed Christ’s words in Mathew 7:5 when he tells us “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” For it is our personal sin which leads to social sin, not the other way around.
Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, 1984, clearly elucidates the nature of sin, both personal and social. He explains that “Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community.” He goes on to explain that clearly an individual may be influenced by many dominant external issues as well as internal weaknesses, such as habits and proclivities, however, “it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals’ sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people.” Today, the manner in which we tend to attribute personal sin to social structures and social sin is a denial of our God given freedom and dignity. The saint concludes that “there is nothing so personal and untransferable in each individual as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin.”
It is a most stubborn misunderstanding of modernity to believe that our socio-economic status is the most important determining factor in our ability to be moral. We erroneously believe that there is a difference between upper, middle and lower class morality, when in fact there is not. Morality is not dependent upon our social status but on our human freedom and intrinsic dignity in reference to the objective moral law.
If we reduce morality to a material concerns then our focus will be on who “has” and who “has not” and the politics of envy will rule our proclamations on “social sin.” We stand witness to this phenomena today. Our morality undergirding our personal sins is based almost solely on our free will choices and the formation of our consciences. Where we fall on the socio-economic scale may play a small mitigating role in our personal sins, but it is neither primary nor paramount concerning our moral habits. We would do well to remember Christ’s warning in Matthew 19:24, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1869 that “sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.”” The very mechanism that drives our complicity in “social sins” is the distorted notions of “tolerance” which have become the despotic order of the public square. We are not only told we are to be “tolerant” of social sins that cry out to heaven, we are told we must accept and approve of them. If we acquiesce, even by our silence, we are complicit in the “social sins” of our day.
Our greatest social sin is that of the legal termination of an innocent human life in the womb. Every year in our country alone we sacrifice around one million innocent human lives at the altar of sexual license. The yearly world toll is staggering. This holocaust of the unborn is exacerbated by public endorsement of contraception. The next step for the advancement of the Culture of Death is the up and coming movement towards euthanasia. Further social sin crying out to heaven is our societal embrace of unnatural sexual relationships. It began with “same-sex marriage” and where it will end is yet to be seen. Now we face an onslaught of “gender issues” culminating “sex reassignment surgery” changing the appearance of one sex for another. We are trying to rewrite the book of nature in our own hand and to the extent that we participate, accept or approve, we are complicit in this “social sin” as well.
The truth is that we are never responsible for the sins of another, we are only responsible for our free will choices to act for or against God and nature. However, we ought to consider that there are a number of ways we can participate in social sin. If we choose to stand idly by while those around us sin we become complicit. If we participate in other people’s sin in any way either voluntarily or directly, we become complicit. If we approve of or praise others sins we become complicit. If we do not speak out against sins and even go so far as to protect those who sin, we become complicit. We are compelled to actively and charitable stand against sins that “cry out to heaven” such as abortion, “gay marriage”, euthanasia, transgender issues and many other issues that are becoming normalized in this day and age.
This is a very difficult time to be faithful Catholics. The world claims that “social sin” is the cause of personal sin, and we must recover the truth that it is just the opposite. The world has inverted the order of morality and sins such as abortion, sodomy, euthanasia, and many other offenses against God and nature are now celebrated, called “good” and it is a “sin” according to the world to oppose these sins that “cry out to heaven.” Our duty to God and neighbor requires us to oppose these sins both privately and publicly lest we become complicit in them. It takes more than just faith and courage to stand against this tide of the world. Let us fast and pray for the graces needed to stand against the world with charity and grace so that our personal sins do not contribute to the ever growing social sin, many eternal souls depend upon it.