On Friday afternoon when I went into a quiet church in Manhattan, a line was already beginning to form in front of the confessional. It’s one of those rare churches where you have to wait 20 minutes or more before it’s your turn. Who would have thought that confessing your sins could be so popular in 21st-century America?
That’s the way life used to be back in the ’50s and ’60s, so it’s unusual to see it during an age when so many people think they can confess their sins directly to Jesus and don’t need what they call “the middle man,” a.k.a. the priest.
After I told the priest that week’s list of transgressions, he said, “You should be thankful you feel sorry for your sins. That feeling in your heart is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” Strange, but I never thought of it as a gift. I thought of it more as a liability, a punishment of an overactive conscience. Too many scruples, and on some occasions, not enough. He continued, “Many people sin and they don’t even realize it. They can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, and when they do wrong, they feel no regret or contrition.”
He was right. I’ve met them. They’re all around us. And while postmodern society might think they’re the fortunate ones because they’re not tied to social conventions and religious practices, they’re actually the pathetic ones because their value system is based on personal beliefs they acquire from the media, celebrities and political causes. They fancy themselves free spirits in the tradition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but they’re actually slaves to sin and their passions. The priest told me to pray a rosary for them, to pray that they receive the grace to understand that God expects us to obey his laws – and that God’s laws take precedence over anything created by man and upheld by the Supreme Court.
When I went back to work that afternoon, I was reading an online news site and saw a column by a fellow who thought he was Jean Paul Sartre. In his essay, which was seen by millions of people, he gave a passionate defense of adultery.
He said monogamy is a struggle and we live according to “restrictive norms that were established centuries ago, norms that speak to the sanctity of relationships without considering the happiness and freedom of the individuals involved.”
He advocated “honesty” and said adultery is often an act of honesty ... and by this time I was starting to feel a little nauseated. I realized I had stumbled upon one of those people the priest was talking about when he said, “Many people sin and they don’t even realize it. They can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, and when they do wrong, they feel no regret or contrition.”
Consider the popular website for married cheaters, “Ashley Madison,” which has 36 million subscribers. The site, whose motto is “Life is short. Have an affair,” was recently hacked by a group threatening to release confidential information of the adulterers, including names, credit cards and nude photos.
Another entrepreneur who wants to make money off of marital infidelity has launched a website called “OpenMinded.com” for people who want to commit adultery and “be honest” about it. He calls it “ethical cheating.” Let’s be really HONEST – the idea of “honest cheating” is the product of an amoral mentality.
The good news is that most people still can distinguish right from wrong, and 90 percent of adults believe cheating is wrong. They realize it destroys families and leaves people emotionally wounded and betrayed. To suggest it should be socially acceptable only points to the deeper problem in consumer-minded America, that we treat people like commodities in the so-called “hooking up” culture.
This is the kind of thinking that develops in a decadent society, where people scoff at the idea of “sin” because to them the greatest source of happiness and freedom is “doing your own thing.”
However, a society that redefines “right and wrong” based on personal philosophies like “I can do what I want regardless of the consequences” eventually becomes a victim of those consequences.
As psychiatrist Karl Menninger asked more than 40 years ago, “Whatever became of sin?” In modern America, “sin” is an outdated notion, which is why abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and adultery are so prevalent – and even encouraged. The so-called “moral progressives” will never acknowledge there’s a correlation between the culture of death in its many manifestations and the increasing cases of mass murder and violence.
A decadent society institutionalizes sin and calls it socially acceptable. It creates institutions like Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood.
There’s only one hope for the future. Start your kids off right in life. Make sure they know the 10 Commandments – and teach them to follow them, with no ifs, ands or buts. And let them know sin is real, despite what they see on TV or hear in the classroom.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.