The Harvey Weinstein affair has unleashed a can of worms. There has been a series of exposures concerning sexual offences or inappropriate sexual behaviour of MPs, celebrities and others. There is no doubt that sexual harassment, carried out mostly by men, deserves condemnation and certainly there should be rules in the workplace governing what is acceptable conduct. It is, however, clear that there is a shrill condemnatory judgement by the media and by those who in some sense represent the 'established' view of society on the individuals charged with these offences. This is in contrast with the Christian view which famously “hates the sin but loves the sinner”, for we believe that God created all humans as an act of love and that we are born 'good', ready for a loving relationship with God and therefore with each other. However, due to original sin, we are born in a fallen state, we suffer from 'concupiscence', i.e. disordered desire. As St. Paul says: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” [Rom 7:19].
Those individuals who have sinned by engaging in sexual harassment are certainly sinners but they should not be made scapegoats and judged as beyond the pale and irredeemable It is ironic that this crisis has occurred at a time of unprecedented sexualization and easy access to pornography on the Internet. At the heart of the matter is western society's lack of a true anthropology, a view of the human person as intrinsically good, made for love - the love of God and of each other. Therefore, it springs to judgement when actions are viewed as against the prevailing code of conduct, and this judgement is personal and without mercy.
The actions of sexual predators and the corruption involved in covering up allegations against them is, of course, to be condemned and it is right that protocols and procedures should be set in place to ensure that such behaviour is not permitted. However, this will not cure the problem. What is required is a view of human love and human interaction that is comprehensive, mature and realistic, one which recognizes our non-material, spiritual nature and the possibility of change in our behaviour. We should condemn the sin rather than the sinner, although justice rightly seeks legal punishment where required. Jesus warned us against springing to condemnation of others.
As Catholics, we believe in repentance, forgiveness, redemption and change. The Faith perspective sets human action within the context of an ecosystem, material (as used in the normal sense of the word by science) and spiritual (ignored or denied by western society). We have free will to choose good or reject it. This is an essential part of what it means to be spiritual. It is part of our very human nature to seek that which is good and true, not out of obedience to some arbitrary set of rules but because it is natural to us to seek our own material and spiritual good. We seek to love and be loved but original and actual sin has made it much more difficult to follow the promptings of our spiritual nature, the soul, to seek our own true good.
We know the effects of giving into disordered desire: this is actual sin. This involves acting contrary to our own good, contradicting relationships within our spiritual and physical ecosystem. Our relationships with others should be characterised by truth and love but sin introduces vices, typified by the seven ‘deadly sins’. Sin is spiritual self-harm. The effects of personal sin, then, will impact upon the physical as well as the spiritual. Since God is our ecosystem, the effects of sin will damage the whole environment in which we live. Sin acquires a social nature, in turn creating a hostile environment for the spiritual life. Our very human personhood is therefore under attack. This is nowhere more evident in recent decades than in the devaluation of the lives of the unborn, disabled and elderly.
Christ seeks us out, despite our sin in order to invite us to return to what is good for us and nobody is beyond God’s mercy. Despite the tragedy of human sin, damaging the matter-spirit ecosystem, God's loving mercy enables that damaged relationship to be healed through Christ's unique redemption of us in His assumption of our flesh and its crucifixion and resurrection. In the words of St. Paul:
"God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." [Eph 2: 4-10]
January/ February 2020
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