On Foundational Sin

This post continues a series of reflections that I began here.

I’m going to define another term, here: foundational sin. This is a sin that’s built into the foundations of one’s life. Consider a burglar, a person who “earns” his daily bread by stealing from others, and has done so for years. Theft, then, is a foundational sin in this person’s life. It has become part of who he is, part of his self-image.

Theft is objectively sinful; our hypothetical burglar needs to repent of it and change his ways. But that means changing everything about his life. He’ll need to find a new way of making a living. He’ll probably need to make new friends. The consequences of this kind of radical repentance in his life are incalculable.

Now suppose that our burglar becomes convicted of the inherent wrongness of his daily activities. He wishes to repent; but he just can’t see how to do it—can’t see how to make the necessary changes. He might feel trapped.

This is the sort of thing that leads people to despair, and it makes foundational sin very tricky to deal with.

I chose theft for this example, because theft is a sin that virtually everyone agrees is wrong, even thieves. No matter how well a burglar might justify his own thievery to himself, he’ll take a dim view of those who steal from him.

Now, consider sins that our culture is inclined to excuse, or that aren’t generally regarded as sins. The Church teaches, for example, that re-marriage after divorce is wrong, and that such a couple are committing adultery. Yet we see this all the time in our society. Suppose such a couple are drawn to the Church: and yet they have this foundational sin at the heart of their lives together. They made a commitment to each other in good faith, and they have built a life together, and they are told that the central truth of their lives must be repented of. This is extraordinarily difficult.

And this is precisely the situation that the committed same-sex couples of whom Leah writes are faced with.


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