Connecting sin with “the system”

Oct 12 2020, Richard Rohr

One reason we lost interest in the concept of sin is because we usually heard it being used to judge, shame, exclude, or control others or ourselves. Seldom was the concept of sin used to bring discernment or deeper understanding, much less compassion or forgiveness, to the human situation. My conviction is that sin became a less useful idea for many of us because we needed to move around in a different field to regain our notion of the deadly nature of true evil. If we are honest and perceptive, we surely see that actual evil often seems to “dominate the very air” and is much more the norm than the exception.

I’m convinced the apostle Paul’s teaching about the nature of sin reveals his spiritual genius. For him, sin is not primarily individual fault, but the negative matrix out of which both evil and enlightenment arise. Paul (or the school of Paul) wrote in Ephesians: “You were dead through the crimes and sins that used to make up your way of life, when you were living by the principles of this world, thus obeying the ruler who dominates the very air” (2:1‒2). This compact sentence seems to be pointing to at least three sources of evil, which would eventually be called the flesh, the world, and the devil in early Catholic moral theology:

1) The Flesh: “the crimes and sins that used to make up your way of life” (our personal participation in an already criminal and sinful culture);

2) The World: “living by the principles of this world” (since most cultures are based on false or superficial agreements about value, dignity, and success). By world, Paul is not referring to creation or nature, but rather what we might call the system;

3) The Devil: “the ruler who dominates the very air” (the illusions and deceits which so totally control the field of consciousness that most of us cannot see them; it is the very air we breathe). Up to now, most Christians have placed almost all of our attention on the level of the “flesh,” policing sexuality and various “unclean” acts rather than addressing the more serious and pervasive forms of corporate injustice and evil. We have had almost no education in or recognition of what Paul meant by “the principles of the world” and even less on what he meant by “the ruler who dominates the very air.” When we imagine the devil as a caricature of a red, horned figure, we are not taking evil seriously. The implications have been massive, blinding, and hugely destructive, both for the individual and for society.

Matthew Fox:

Networking with other individuals and organizations doing similar work and bringing such activists together to develop a deeper spiritual grounding will be part of our shared work. We share on line in monthly zoom meetings and dozens of groups have been launched, following a theme of “self organizing” groups.

Many people in our time—especially the youth—have withdrawn from institutional religion. But as Deepak Chopra has pointed out, evil has not diminished on the planet because millions have walked out of church (or the synagogue or the mosque). Evil continues to walk among us and even to take on wings it seems with the current goings on in wars, refugees from war, poverty and from climate change, extinction of species, calls to hatred and bigotry and denial of scientific facts about the demise of the planet as we know it.

The question we address might be summarized this way: How can we now build a conscious community that gives us a sense of our common sacredness and purpose? in Motion (formerly known as Worship Jam) teaching and practicing community building through circle dancing. Song they are singing is called Gathered Here. Originally posted to YouTube.

Orders arise when society’s spiritual/religious and cultural needs are not being met and when religion, which tends to move and evolve very slowly, is not responding adequately or swiftly enough to changes in culture. We feel this is clearly the situation in the times we live in. Each Order has a certain charism and a particular mission about it. Ours is captured in its name, a return of the sense of the Sacred and a movement or community or Order called to bring spiritual depth and energy to the defense of Mother Earth.

Group photo of the three Co-Founders of the OSE. Photo originally posted here.

Orders respond much more swiftly to the new challenges of history than do religions themselves. OSE holds Mother Earth as the focus and the sacred container where the current spiritual adventure is to be played out rather than any particular religious institution. But this Order will draw on wisdom and practices from the many spiritual/religious traditions our species has birthed over the millennia. We are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater but taking wisdom from a burning building and re-grounding it in what truly matters—the sacredness of our lives and all lives in the sacred embrace and web of this numinous planet. With wisdom comes, play, celebration and creativity. And the passion to heal, to be instruments therefore of compassion and justice-making. Therefore love.

Adapted from: Adapted from Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jennifer Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action, pp.xvf.

Banner Image: Mystics in Motion in circle service. Originally posted to the Mystics in Motion website.

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