Can denial be a sin?
Theological musings from one most unqualified to write such...
I’m going to have to make a confession here: I am in no way qualified to be speaking of theological matters. But with the confidence God gave mediocre white men, I’m going to try because, in the end, theology boils down to believe what you believe and try to live within the rules your beliefs impose.
So my belief system is pretty simple, as if Pascal were understood (poorly) by a 12 year-old:
The Universe exists, it is real, and it is understandable
It very well may have been created: science is quiet on this question. I find it comforting to believe it was created, not so much where the Creator makes every little decision, but setting up rules and boundary conditions for an evolving system? Yeah, I can believe that. But the other can be true as well. Or something else entirely.
Does this Creator… or a representative… concern themselves with our behavior? Billions believe ‘yes’. This is where Pascal comes in for me: It is just a safer bet to act as if there is a judgement on our lives when it is over. Is the same one who judges the same one who created the Universe? I don’t really think it matters, but my Catholic background sez yes, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
According to Christian theology, there are a kazillion ways God is going to judge you – 10 Commandment violations, Golden Rule violations, violations imposed by some damn fool church or another, something your Priest tells you which is incorrect, the list goes on. Regardless, some how, some way, God is going to judge each and every one of us and send us to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory (Catholics). (Your religion may say differently, that’s why I keep calling them “belief systems” and not “reality” or “facts”.)
(As to not get overwhelmed by the multiplicity of options, I just try to be… as my understanding of the word goes… a “good” person.)
To the dog’s point: “What is good?” Without getting into details I keep it simple: If your actions benefit another human being equally, or more, than you benefit, it is good. And yes, mutually beneficial actions (such as paying an honest days’ wages for an honest days’ work) are “good” actions. This is how civilizations are built.
Therefore, my basic theological framework is this: I live in a rational universe where the best option as an individual is to conduct my life in a way which is beneficial to other human beings, to the best of my ability and understanding, and I do this partly because I believe I may be judged on the moral quality of my life when it is all over, this judgement perhaps being forever.
So what does this have to do with Denialism?
I once asked a question in January, 2019: Can you lie to yourself so often that you can damn yourself to Hell? The general consensus was “No” for a variety of reasons – “it doesn’t hurt anyone” being common, some people going into the difference between a venal sin and a mortal sin, one arguing that not to lie to oneself is so difficult that the question itself is preposterous. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I didn’t debate too much, I just wanted to throw the proposition and question out there. I did, and do, think most of the respondents were wrong, but for vague reasons, undefined. At least, undefined until the COVID disaster.
(And, to be honest, I made a perfect hash out of that OP. Not one of my better efforts.)
Y’all remember this list?
You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make idols.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
The first four deal with the denial of God: “Don’t deny me”, those Commandments tell us.
The next set goes to other forms of denial:
5. Denial of family
6. Denial of life
7. Denial of love
8. Denial of property
9. Denial of reality
Denial of trust
Commandment 9, to me, is key. It effectively tells us: Do Not Lie. Don’t lie about your neighbors, your family, your government, don’t lie about your spouse…
Don’t lie about reality.
The theological dilemma facing today’s conservatives is stark: In 2020, they violated the Ninth commandment to such a degree that they, with malicious aforethought, became responsible for 500,000 violations of the Sixth Commandment, those excess American deaths which resulted out of their refusal to take basic health precautions and their broadcasting of bad-faith arguments about the efficacy of masks vs hydroxychloroquine, whether seniors should die for the Dow Jones, more.
You lived it, Gentle Reader. You were there. You saw how they acted.
500,000 souls lost because of selfishness and denialism. At minimum. Globally, the number is in the millions, but here in America, the vast majority of our deaths were caused by Republican denial of the reality of God’s Universe, preferring conservative ideological lies broadcast via Limbaugh, Facebook and other social media, 74,000,000 Americans thereby coming to reject moral truths supported by both religion and science.
And then there is this:
Imagine standing before what my grandmother called the Throne of Judgement, having been a MAGAt in 2020:
“… this isn’t going the way I thought, Jesus.”
“We’re not on a first name basis, Cody. You can call me ‘Lord’. Now, let us take a look at April 16th. You were sick, you knew you had symptoms of COVID, yet `you still went to HEB, the largest grocery store in your city. Why?”
“My God-given freedom as an American… “
“Wait, stop… I did not mention Americans in my teachings. Pops? You ever talk about ‘Americans’?”
“Too loud, Pops! Anyway, thought not. Go ahead but note: for this court there are no ‘freedoms’ given to you by me or my Father merely because you belong to a tribe called American. In fact, to make sure our point is clear, you are not being judged on whether you measured to the standards of being an ‘American’, but on whether you followed my teachings, effectively answering the question of whether you lived your life to the benefit of others. Understood?”
“I… I, yes. I think.”
“Don’t worry about it, son, everyone thinks their tribe is special. They’re not. Continue with the question.”
“Why did you go to HEB and refuse to wear a mask, even when you thought you had COVID?”
“I had to get groceries for my family….”
“You bought a 12-pack of beer, a carton of Winstons, and ice cream. And you walked every aisle in the store, no mask, coughing on people, staring at some challengingly.”
“You can respond, you know.”
“… Was that bad? I was told that the fight against masks was a fight for freedom.”
“Again, you are being judged on the morality of your decisions – did they benefit or hurt your fellow man? And on this visit, you infected 2 people, one of whom subsequently infected his grandmother, a woman who died of COVID 5 weeks after your visit to HEB. To be clear, this effectively makes you responsible for the death of a fellow human being as you purposely denied taking those preventative measures which save lives. I have the proof, if you wish to see it. We are God, after all – we can just replay the visit on that big screen over there.”
“I had no idea….”
“Yes, you did. You knew how to fight this disease – your tribe of Americans were excellent at science and communications, after all. But you just chose to deny reality, my reality, and your lie, and the choices made because of that lie… all spun out of political animus… lead to the deaths of 600,000 fellow tribespersons. Oh, and for you, 1 person specifically.
“You denied your responsibility to your neighbor. You denied me. You denied my teachings. You denied my Father. And you denied the reality of the Universe He created. And you wish to enter our home?
“Don’t answer. Let us skip ahead to Easter Sunday, April 19th. You went to church, even sicker than you were at HEB. Correct?”
“President Trump said America was to be open by Easter, and I supported my President.”
“Yes, and we have effectively spent the last 5 hours going over what a disaster that decision has been for your chances at Salvation, have we not? Going back to that Easter church service: You, infecting 16 people… where did you find in my teachings that a moral choice is to bring harm and illness to your fellow man?”
Or, and this is more likely, all of this is bunk and we just live and die forgotten in an unblinking, uncaring Universe. But I chose not to believe that: I chose to believe that our actions carry consequences for us beyond our lives.
To the list above, the purposeful violation of Commandment Nine – thou shalt not lie (even to oneself!) – lead to over 500,000 violations of Commandment Six – thou shall not kill. And this is why I think most of the respondents to the SDMB were wrong: many who disagreed with the hypothetical would not hesitate to say one can damn themselves via murder or adultery or even God denial (the first four commandments), yet the ninth commandment somehow gets a pass even though it’s on the same list as all the other Actions of Hell Bound Magnitude.
And, as we all know, actions such as adultery, dishonor, and killing often begin with a lie.
From my admittedly childish and unsophisticated approach to theology, especially of the Christian variant… this specific denial of reality, lying about COVID: it must have consequences for those who brought misery onto millions.