Lent is a-coming on March 5, and so is that ever-popular perennial: sin.
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always.
In Genesis, Original Sin was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to God's command to lay of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve, and then Adam, ate of its fruit and brought death, work and hard maternal labor into the world. As taught by Augustine (with his preoccupation with sexual concupiscence), Original Sin was sex. Without getting too literal about the how sin came into the world, Original Sin, to me, is the ever-present temptation to harm others and ourselves, and to injure our relationship with God. Babies are born into Original Sin. And observation suggests that even the waters of Baptism don't wash it away. I don't need a Satan to explain this. My human nature is potent enough to explain every desire I have to be cruel, to take what is not mine and to be lazy and uncaring. Original Sin may not explain this tendency, but it describes it to a "T".
But "capacity for sin" is not the focus of Lent. We can all admit capacity to sin without actually having to admit having done wrong. Lent can then appear to be about grief over sin, when it is nothing of the sort.
Lent is about our actual trespass into the realm of sin -- our actual violations of our relationships, duties and obligations. When we have used violence, now or in the past. When we have lied, or killed, or cheated, or lusted or ignored God. It's not about potential, but actuality.
Jesus said that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom before those who pretended to no sin (Matthew 21:31-32). Why is that? Because prostitutes and tax collectors cannot pretend to be pure and sinless. Their sin is public and unhideable.Whereas the sin of others can be hidden behind a cloak of decency and rectitude. Prostitutes and tax collectors enter into the Kingdom where forgiveness is possible because they have moved into the Kingdom's anteroom: acknowledgement of error. Forgiveness is only possible when one has an acknowledged sin that needs forgiveness. To hide behind one's mere capacity to sin, or one's ability to keep sin private, is to be exiled from the realm of forgiveness. Not that God refuses forgiveness. To use a car wash example, if you don't admit your car is dirty and refuse to drive into the cleansing waters, your car remains dirty -- and not because the car wash wouldn't take you
Our sin makes us feel bad. It pricks our conscience. And that's as it should be. The fact that churches play on people's guilt is not a reason to ignore sin. Let churches be places where sinners can be reconciled and freed from guilt. Not places where they are made puppets to the egotistical need of priests and "holy people" to feel superior.