In my senior year at USC, a weird, artsy woman spent a couple of weeks as the substitute teacher for our acting class. (I know what you’re thinking– a weird, artsy acting teacher?! What are the odds?!) She was not just any acting schmo – she was a regular on the “New WKRP in Cincinnati.” Not the one with Loni Anderson or Howard Hesseman, mind you, but the one with all the second tier stars that ran first run episodes on VH1 a decade after the original show.
Anyway, this woman decided to use some of the time to avoid productivity and force us to do interpretative dances instead. So, in a large studio, we sat around in a glorified “Duck Duck Goose” circle and clapped our hands while some sorry class member stood in the center flailing about in representation of deep, important things.
I should remind you that USC is a very, very expensive school.
I do remember, however, that she asked to perform our own interpretation of the concept of “sin.” So, naturally, I sat cross-legged on the floor and grabbed my ankles and then rolled around like a paralyzed crab. This meant something. I’m almost sure of it.
One girl stood up and mimed smoking a cigarette. She was trying to say something very, very profound, which, I think, involved the badness of smoking. It’s hard to put my finger on it – it worked on so many levels.
What I do remember quite well is the insipid discussion that followed.
The woman pointed out that “sin” isn’t real; it’s just something that’s inflicted on you by “the Man.” And when she said “the Man,” she didn’t mean God; she meant the guy who you ought to be sticking it to. (See Jack Black in School of Rock.) The way to avoid sinning, then, is to deny sin exists and then do whatever the hell you want.
Like most artistes who mistake fashion for insight, she thought she was teaching us something life-changing. Instead, she was pushing a juvenile line of thought that has become all too pervasive in the world at large.
The dictionary defines sin as “transgression of divine law.” I’ve always seen it as anything done against the will of God, which is pretty much different words for eth same thing. But if we listen to Ms. WKRP on this, “sin” is just another word for “guilt,” which is always bad. So instead of question whether or not our sin is something we ought to be doing, we should go out of our way to expunge the guilt and then “sin” takes care of itself.
What she ignores is that if you eliminate the concept of sin, you eliminate the concept of God right along with it. Either that, or you neuter God –you might claim He exists, but at the same time He doesn’t have much of an opinion about anything. Or, even more profoundly, His opinion is represented in your opinion. I remember going to a church service where everyone sang, “I am the radiant light of God,” because His will is manifest in everything we do. So if we want to sleep with prostitutes or beat up a bag lady or slaughter six million European Jews, that’s what God would want, too.
I have no use for a God like that.
C.S. Lewis once said that the inherent knowledge of right and wrong that we all have is the greatest proof of the existence of a God. We all know He exists because we know when He’s unhappy with what we’re doing. If that weren’t the cause, there’d be no room for Him to judge us, because we’d be entirely ignorant of His law.
So, okay, if God exists, then so does His law. Which means that sin exists, too. So what is it?
Well, look at it from another angle.
Supposed we could find happiness in sleeping with anything that moved or slaughtering our neighbors to get their stuff. If God is kind, loving, and merciful, don’t you think He would encourage us to do the kind of things that make us happy? People look upon God as some kind of killjoy who doesn’t want us to have any fun. How puerile is that?
I belong to a religious tradition that teaches “Man is, that he might have joy.” Sins are the roadblocks that stand in the way of joy. No matter how you label them, defy them, or ignore them, they’re still real obstacles to happiness. The coolest, grooviest teacher in the world can reject the label of sin, but she can’t avoid the consequences of sin. None of us can. Sin leads to bondage, to slavery, to limited choices.
Which is why I symbolically bound myself in my interpretative dance.
See? I told you it meant something,