Don’t read this if you like the Sopranos and are planning to watch the finale someday. I won’t give away much, but I would hate to ruin it for anyone.
I don’t know if any of you are Sopranos fans, but if any of you saw the finale you’ll know that mobster Tony Soprano doesn’t seem to be receiving much of a direct comeuppance for his many, many appalling sins. I found that awfully frustrating, and it led me to think a bit about sin, which I promised I would post about.
Obviously, when you’re agnostic, the business of sin and hell is less concrete. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally embrace the idea of hell, or at least the hope of it. I think it would be really lovely if certain folks who have offended God and the whole world with their cruelty had the same kind of hideous experiences waiting for them that they had inflicted on others in their lives. But I don’t know if they do, and that makes it complicated to think about the concepts of sin and forgiveness.
For example: Hitler needs forgiveness. Duh. Jeffrey Dahmer needs forgiveness. Jim Jones needs forgiveness. Alcoholic fathers and mothers need forgiveness, although they also need support and help to stop their bad acts. But how do they work together? Does forgiveness excuse or merely attempt to heal what can’t be undone? And how does religion really factor in? Does it make you feel forgiven, or does it actually give you the forgiveness you can’t give yourself?
In a comment some time ago, someone suggested that I need Jesus to forgive the sins I’ve committed, because we have all sinned and we all need forgiveness for those sins. But why? Because I’m not sure I believe in hell, the idea of forgiveness of sins committed doesn’t have the same resonance as it would otherwise. If I need to be forgiven in this life so that I don’t have hell in my next, then forgiveness becomes merely a way to get the black marks off of my cosmic report card. If my sins are such that I deserve hell (lying to my mother about whether or not I eat breakfast? being proud that I was able to weed my yard and plant some new grass all by myself?), then God’s got himself a hair trigger temper. I’ve never bought the idea that the least of our sins is important enough to offend God, any more than any of us would thunder and smite when a child who doesn’t know better whacks another on the head with a spoon.
I can buy that I need forgiveness for my sins in order to be a better person in this life. If we all pursued that, we’d probably have a much easier time getting along. But that’s hardly religious; that’s just practical and nice in a secular kind of way. So what’s the answer? What do I really need, and why do I need it, in the matter of whether I ask God to forgive my sins?