SIN OVERHEAD

Paul wrote once in a letter to the Roman christians, "The wages of sin is death." I looked it up and read a little comment on the meaning of that, and it seems to me the scholars are just tap dancing around the vagaries of that statement. Some say he was talking about spiritual death, some say he was referring to Adam's and Eve's sin which supposedly reduced our lifespans from a thousand years to threescore and ten.

Personally, I think Paul was just trying to throw a skeer into the congregation. He's trying to get them to behave the way he wants them to and so he spits a little fire and brimstone, using God as his boogeyman. It wouldn't have been the first time that happened and it certainly wasn't the last.

If you like business metaphors, though, instead of wages you might want to think of sin as carrying with it "overhead," a predictable, recurring, permanent cost. Since I'm not as revered as Paul, I guess I need to explain that.

If you sin, you have to lie to yourself. If you cheat on your wife you tell yourself, "She's never going to find out," or "Everybody does it," or "I'm so uncommonly virile that biologically I need more than one woman," or "What Hillary doesn't know won't hurt her." How about, "It's the Darwinian thing to do."

Those are all lies, but now you believe them. If you didn't believe them, you'd be paralyzed with guilt.

Suppose you're submitting a bid to the highway department for a job and you place on the bid tools of a certain quality and you deliver tools of a lower quality when you fill the orders. You tell yourself some more lies. You tell yourself that everybody does it, this is just good business, nobody's going to know, the workers will probably steal the tools before the corners of those cheap, stamped wrenches get rounded off, if you don't get the bid you'll lose your job, you'll make it up in some other way, you have to do this for your family, and so on.

Those are all lies, but now you believe them.

Suppose you're a lawyer and you overbill your clients. You bullshit yourself, don't you? "He can afford it. Everybody does it. If I don't charge him a lot, he won't value my services." Suppose you're an auto mechanic and you charge your customer for a new part when you actually make the repair with a rebuilt part? You paste little lies over your guilt like band-aids over an oozing sore. "I've GOT to do this to compete. I'm so clever nobody is ever going to know. It's for my FAAAAAAAAMMMMMIIILLLYYYYYYY!"

Those are all lies, but now you believe them. By the way, it no longer surprises me, but I'm still amazed at how eagerly men blame the wife and kids for their own corruption. It's traditional, though. When God asked Adam why he ate the forbidden fruit he blamed Eve, didn't he?

Suppose you were a schoolyard bully who shook smaller kids down for their lunch money. What lies have you come to believe over the years? "That's just the way the world works, the law of the jungle." "Experiences like that probably toughened them up. I actually did them a favor."

You have told yourself lies and now you believe those lies.

When Barnicle the Plagairist of the Boston Globe appropriates the ideas of minds greater than his own (and that's a big club), what does he tell himself? What false notions does he now accept as true? What false things do you have to believe in order to shoplift? What false things do you have to believe in order to cheat on your taxes or on a college exam?

After Pearl Harbor, when loyal Japanese-Americans were relieved of their property and were concentrated in "relocation camps," white Americans had to convince themselves that this was not evil. I still have yet to find a white American of that generation who thinks that this was in any way inappropriate. What false notions did they embrace as justification which today distort their view of reality?

Today it seems self-evident that slavery is wrong. You'd have to go pretty far back in the sticks to find anybody who honestly believes there's nothing morally wrong with slavery; but a century and a half ago, intelligent, educated christians managed to fill their own heads with enough lies so that they could carry on with it.

After thirty or forty years of sinning, you have to have convinced yourself of hundreds and hundreds of false things. Half of the stuff you hold in your head is just plain untrue. You're out there walking around, making decisions based on fantasies that you have made up in order to assuage your own guilt.

If you believe a lot of things that are false, how can your view of reality be accurate?

There's your overhead, your recurring cost. When you sin, you work false notions into your view of the world, and that keeps you from seeing the world as it really is.

RTJ--9/8/98


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