Sin is All Around Us

Written: 13 June, 2000

Looking at some of the links in the Church History thread on this board, I was reminded of how the early Christians got in trouble for refusing to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods of the day. People thought they were strange because these Christians "disregard the world and despise death, and take no account of those who are regarded as gods by the Greeks, neither observe the superstition of the Jews" (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, 1:1; written circa 200 AD). They were in the world, but not of it.

Well, we sometimes try not to be of it anyway. The other day I happened to see a bit of E!'s coverage of Spring Break. I only watched about five minutes before changing the channel. It bothered me that what was shown was people revelling in fleshly pursuits: binge drinking, wet T-shirt contests, etc., etc. Nobody commented on whether this sort of behavior was moral or sinful or anything like that -- it was all "fun, fun, fun"! Some of what was shown did seem like harmless fun, such as volleyball games and surfing and going to the beach. But everything seemed to lean in the direction of lustfulness: For example, instead of normal dancing, the dancing shown is of a "grinding," sexually-suggestive kind. Ordinary sun-bathing is used an excuse to show lots of flesh, or ogle the flesh that is shown by another, instead of simply getting a tan.

This kind of activity is considered so normal that anyone who objects to it, especially if they call it sinfulness, is deemed to be a prude who hates the idea of people having fun. It is the prude who thinks sexuality is "dirty," rather than beautiful -- instead of realizing that the misuse and abuse of one's sexuality is what throws dirt on a beautiful thing. Christianity is considered the "No" religion: too strict, too prudish, judgmental, out-of-date, etc., etc.

Just going by percentages, it seems likely that many of those engaging in, say, wet T-shirt contests at Spring Break, must have at some point gone to a Christian church, claimed to be Christians. How could someone claim to be a Christian one day and then later participate in a wet t-shirt contest?

It seems to me that there are two reasons why. One, the person does not realize or believe that what they are doing is wrong. Perhaps they feel that any behavior that "isn't hurting anyone" is not sinful, and that their actions aren't harmful. Therefore, the next time they go to church or pray to God, they will not feel it necessary to ask God for forgiveness for that behavior. The behavior will be unrepented because it's not seen as needing to be repented. Is unrepentant sin forgiven if the sinner doesn't recognize it as sin?

The second reason why a Christian would engage in sinful behavior is because they are still human beings tempted to sin. They may realize that it is sinful and do it anyway, and then ask God for forgiveness later. It's easy to condemn such an attitude as plainly two-faced, but we all do it to one extent or another. For example, my own reason for watching E!'s Spring Break coverage was not so that I could write a post about it on a Christian message board! As with any other human, a good way to gain my attention is to broadcast unclothed flesh in my view. Music video and advertising directors often use sexual imagery to attract the attention of viewers who otherwise would have no interest in the video or ad. So, in this case, the Christian who engages in sinful behavior recognizes it as such and sincerely repents of it, to receive God's forgiveness.

Since the question of whether the Spring Break behavior was moral or not was not raised during the E! presentation (at least of what little I saw of it), one can assume that the participants belong to the former group -- those who don't recognize the behavior as sinful and thus not something that ought to be resisted, and requiring repentance. If one accepts the notion that binge drinking, wet t-shirt contests and so on are sinful behavior, however, then the E! program could be seen as an advertisement for sin. (I'm not picking on E! here, since the majority of TV channels have such programs focusing on salacious material. I've seen more coverage of porn stars on secular TV than I have of Christian rock.)

Some people say that we are surrounded by immorality -- in music, movies, Spring Break behavior, etc. -- which some Christians unapologetically engage in. Those who deem such things as immoral (whether they are Christians or not) try to avoid such things as best they can, occasionally being tempted by it. Because they make value judgments about things, they are criticized as "judgmental." When those "judgmental" people naturally try to avoid that which they consider immoral, they are deemed "prudes" and "party poopers" and "uptight" for refusing to enjoy it like everyone else does.

If they make a value judgment without having experienced what it is they are judging, they are dismissed as uninformed. For example, many people criticize Christians who boycott certain movies because the Christians "haven't even seen the movie." Apparently it is not enough that these Christians have read various opinions (pro and con) about the movie and based their decision on what they read about it. No, they must share in the experience! Isn't this reminiscent of the way in which pagans were distressed that the early Christians wouldn't simply offer sacrifices to the gods like everybody else? Such faithfulness to their God (or convictions) must be truly baffling to those unwilling to make value judgments. Some people think that a person can't make a judgment about anything until they've experienced it themselves. So, perhaps they believe that a person can't know to avoid drink unless they have become drunk themselves, or know that rape is wrong unless one has engaged in it for oneself! As C. S. Lewis points out, it may be the person who refrains from sin who can best judge it -- because a drunkard doesn't realize he's drunk, while the sober person more accurately judges the situation. Similarly, a person who is always saying "F"-this and "F"-that, cursing often in their ordinary conversation, and in their music and movies, will consider it perfectly acceptable and not realize that they are engaging in speech which someone else might find offensive. Again, they are engaging in sinful behavior but don't consider it sinful, and so it remains unrepented.