The sin of the century

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“The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin. – Pope Pius XII (in a 1946 address to the United States Catechetical Congress)

Prophetic much?

Obviously such a sin was already occurring at his time for him to be addressing it. But how much more does that ring true 60 years later?

20 years after Pope Pius XII made that statement Joseph Fletcher founded his famous theory of “Situational Ethics” which basically says that no act has any kind of absolute moral gravity. Every act’s morality depends on the situation. So even lying, murder, stealing, etc. can all be – not only excusable or justified – but inherently good if the situation merits it. In other words, for Fletcher, the end does justify the means.

Of course, this leads us down the slippery slope of immorality to where, in our human weakness, we are able to justify in our heads the most horrendous crimes against humanity and call it “the loving thing to do.”

It led Fletcher to conclusions like:

“Our cultural tradition holds that life has absolute value, but that is really not good enough anymore. Sometimes, no life is better.” – Joseph Fletcher

Scary. Especially when it’s somebody else who is deciding whether or not my life has any value or not to them!

Of course, that’s exactly what we’ve done in our country well over 50 millions times in the last lifetime – over 50 millions abortions.  Over 50 million human lives (in the U.S. alone) were ended because somebody else decided for them that “no life is better.”

But on a much broader scale, this is what has happened across the board the past 60 years since Pope Pius XII made that statement.

We’ve forgotten the true cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance) and traded them in for the universal “virtue” of Tolerance (our secular religion).  And now we’re so darn tolerant that we even tolerate sin and evil.

We’ve taken the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity from their focus on God and others and redirected them all to focus on ourselves.  And once I do that – once sin only concerns myself and I’ve cut God and others out of the equation – then I can’t even see why a sin is a sin.  The word sin doesn’t even make sense to me.

We’ve numbed ourselves. We’ve lost our sense of sin.

On a physical level, this is similar to a chef losing his sense of touch.  If he’s cooking in the kitchen and he picks up a pan that is too hot, his sense of touch tells him, “hey, that’s too hot – that hurts!”  And so he lets go and corrects his behavior.

The pain he felt when he touched the hot pan was actually healthy.  It told him that his grabbing the hot pan was hurting his body.  If he had no sense of touch, he would have kept on burning his hand and injuring his body.

Our culture says, “No, the problem was not that you touched the hot pan.  The problem is that your body told you it was bad to touch the hot pan.  Who am I to tell you that touching a hot pan is bad for you.  Here is some pain medication.  Now you can touch the hot pan as much as you want and you won’t feel a thing!”

The sense of sin works similarly.  We need our sense of sin to know when we are sinning – to know when we’re injuring our souls. And our culture says, “No, the problem is not that you’ve sinned.  The problem is that you just need to get over that guilt complex you’ve got – it’s not real.  It’s all in your head.  And it’s keeping you from enjoying what you want to do. (oh, and here’s some pain medication that will help with that too).”

We’ve lost our sense of sin to the point that we don’t even believe Sin exists anymore.  And that is why this, itself, is the sin of the century.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” – Verbal from The Usual Suspects (movie)

20 comments Add comment

paul merrill January 15, 2009 at 12:38 pm

TOTALLY agreed.

And you didn’t even mention how situational ethics describes how all those CEOs have shafted our economy.

Deacon John January 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Interestingly, Our Lady said that “most souls go to hell because of the sins of impurity!”
She also said in another apparition that the greatest sin today is “atheism.” Never before in the history of man, have so many people denied the existence of God. I guess it all ties in, if you don’t believe in God, there is no sin, so anything goes, especially sexual sins. What a mixed up world we live in! As the Lord said: “When the Son of Man returns . . . will He find any faith on earth?” Lord, have mercy on us!
Deacon John

+JMJ+ @ TotusTuusFamily January 16, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Great post. This post had me at the picture of one of my favorite film characters, Kaiser Sozey!

I’ve enjoyed visiting your blog. It’s one I’ll want to come back to.

Watanabex January 20, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I got to your blog via reddit and i love it, great posts keep on writting, i’ll be visiting almost everyday now :D

Patricia Prenosil January 21, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Here in WA we just passed the assisted suicide law. Now I wonder, if I get cancer will the insurance company tell me they won’t cover my treatment but they will be happy to pay for me to kill myself and stop costing them money? hmmm…. How much is a life worth? Will saving my life be measured in dollar amounts? That treatment will cost more than she will contribute to society, so she’s expendable. We pretty much already think that way. The unwanted unborn, the poor, and the disabled can’t “do” anything or will suffer in life so we should just kill them now. Their lives are cheap. So many people are so confused and lost. We have to pray our butts off!!

Mary October 16, 2009 at 7:50 pm

You warn of a slippery slope that results with us able to “justify in our heads the most horrendous crimes against humanity and call it the loving thing to do”. Well, I hate to break it to you, but we’ve already been there. So much evil has been justified by various world religions over the course of human history that whatever justified immorality you’re referencing from the modern age would pale in comparison to the unspeakable volume of outright atrocities that have been justified in the past. You speak of doom and gloom for the future, but I don’t think you realize where we’ve come from – or at least you have a unjustifiably rosy view of it. As bad as it might seem today, we’re leaps and bounds better off than we were before the age of enlightenment.

Catholic debating pro-life April 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm


You are right in stating that is wrong for religions to start wars and justify evil based on their faith…but then, wars started in the name of religion were often corrupt. TRUE religion believes in a God of love, and the commandments that flow from that are merely logical extensions. Religion that fosters hatred is corrupt. Did the Catholic Church become corrupt at some points in history? Yes. Does that mean that its TRUE teachings are wrong? No.

Sorry if this sounds a bit rambling, I’m articulating my thoughts as I write. BTW Matthew, I think this is an excellent post.

Catholic debating pro-life April 23, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Right now I am debating moral relativism with a couple of people. How would you respond to someone (atheist, I believe, but at any rate not religious) who claims that since throughout history since certain immoral things have been thought of as moral in different times and societies, there is no such thing as objective morality and all morality is subjective?

Ricky Jones June 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

So true. Awesome post as usual. Keep it up Matt!

Christopher Wright June 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

I can’t remember when I last heard the word “sin” uttered from a Catholic pulpit, or lectern, or wherever. I guess when I was a teenager, a long, long time ago.

To embarrassing, I guess, and too judgmental.

God bless!

Heather June 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

People may have a problem with her, but Ayn Rand said something similar in her book Atlas Shrugged. The protagonists in the book are constantly trying to fight that sort of relativism that supposedly gives the government the right to oppress the productivity of society, because it’s for the “greater good.” Quite an interesting read, despite being over 1000 pages.

rr August 5, 2010 at 10:15 am

Well, Ayn Rand was also a self-described rationalist who thought religion was irrational. The flaws in her logic are too numerous to mention here. To her, giving some of your hard-earned money to others, even voluntarily, made you a chump. Her arguments aren’t specifically about government, but about any force that would keep any amount of your rewards from you (including voluntary tithing). Having a philosophy that justifies total selfishness is, no doubt, comforting to some. Just as rascists can now find shelter in some libertarian arguments (I can keep blacks out of my business because Jon Stossill said it’s OK). The marketplace will correct everything. (Of course, it didn’t during the many decades when segregation was legal.)

Sage March 23, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The majority of people in this country believe in a god, hell, sin, damnation, doing good. 99 percent of prison inmates believe in god. Who are you talking about when you say people don’t believe in sin? I think what really upsets you is that not everyone believes the catholic church determines what is and is not sin anymore!

Matthew Warner March 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Sage – that doesn’t make any sense.

Sage March 23, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Do you ever think about over population? Do you really wish we had 50 million more people here competing for jobs and resources? Just asking…I heard the pope tells people in Africa not to use condoms so they keep spreading HIV and having infected babies. Is that true?

Matthew Warner March 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

You should totally read this post here on just that topic:

Kellee April 15, 2011 at 10:59 am

I completely agree that the loss of the sense of sin is the worst sin. I can’t tell you how many times doing the right thing felt like I was doing the wrong thing. Society is so confused. Thank you for posting.

dancingcrane April 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm

The loss of the sense of sin can be driven by fear. Many people believe in a God, but not one that would punish their own kind of sin. God certainly loves them enough to make an exception for them, right? So for them it’s not really a sin. Many others simply run away from belief altogether, as if disbelief would save them. I spent a whole day discussing this with a gay friend who finally said “But can’t you just agree that it’s true for you, but not for me?” He needs that kind of meaninglessness because he is terrified that believing in sin will put him in Hell.

That’s scary, tho. What’s worse, losing it, or rejecting what you still know is true…what God has written in your heart?

Sage April 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

What’s considered a sin for some religions is not a sin for others. For Gandhi, it was so big a sin to eat beef, the one time he tried it, he was deathly ill, proof to him I suppose that his Hindu religious view was right. For headhungers it was a sin not to take the heads of their enemies. Christianity is one religion of many. Christians of 200 years ago could justify the sin of slavery in this country; the bible doesn’t say anything about slavery being a sin but if trapping people and taking them to other countries to be bought and sold is not a sin, what is? Christians now believe polygamy is a sin although the patriarchs of the old testament had hundreds of wives and concubines. Some Mormons still don’t think it’s a sin. Who gets to decide what is sinful? In some native american tribes young people were allowed (if not encouraged) to be sexual before they chose a life partner. We are told sex outside of marriage is a sin. We would probably all agree killing another human being is a sin – until our gov’t sends our young people to another country to kill in war. Then that killing is blessed by the clergy when they see them off!

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