I was raised Catholic and one thing I have never understood is the antipathy so many seem to have to the practice of confession. We’re all sinners, right? So what do we do about that?
One frequent accusation has to do with the “hypocrisy” of it all: you confess your sins, receive “absolution” and go right out and commit sins all over again. Rinse and repeat. What a bunch of hypocrites Catholics are.
Hypocrisy may be the tribute vice pays to virtue, but applying the concept here at all is just an intellectually pedestrian category error, misunderstanding things completely. Every time you make a confession you must promise to “sin no more” and yet you know that’s not going to happen, and indeed that reality is formally acknowledged because you’re also required to keep going to confession. This isn’t so much hypocrisy as it is inconsistency. Or maybe incoherence.
But is it? Is it really?
Metaphysics 101: to exist is to be in the process of becoming. Plain language: you’re never quite there, always on the way, at best. But then if you don’t have a destination in mind you’re not even on the way, because you don’t know where you’re going. Talk about incoherent.
So, you’ve got to have a destination to be on your way in the first place, and you have to accept that as long as you exist you’ll never reach your destination. The practice of confession captures this – well – perfectly.
The examination of conscience is, moreover, a fascinating exercise. There are mortal sins. Venial sins. Seven deadly sins. And while we’re on the subject of sin lists, let’s not forget the sins against the Holy Spirit, which are unforgivable, and of particular relevance to this discussion, the fact that two of these unforgivable sins are: a) presuming salvation; and b) despairing of salvation. (For bonus points: why are those two sins “particularly relevant” to this discussion? Answer in the comments section to receive your just reward in the form of fulsome praise from your hosts here at Lawyers on Strike.)
And those are just some of your own sins. There are also nine ways of being an accessory to someone else’s sin. That’s right: vicarious liability is rare in the law, but in Catholicism it’s a daily companion.
Now, why do I bring this up in connection with the Moreland Commission fiasco? Well, consider the nine ways you can fall into someone else’s sin:
I. By counsel
II. By command
III. By consent
IV. By provocation
V. By praise or flattery
VI. By concealment
VII. By partaking
VIII. By silence
IX. By defense of the ill done
Now, forget confession for a minute. Just focus on the nine ways and the examination of conscience entailed by that. Isn’t it obvious that a political class that regularly examined their consciences with respect to the nine ways would have a hard time degenerating into the cesspool of political corruption that is Albany, New York?
So here’s the problem. The political class in Albany doesn’t know anything about the nine ways – probably never even heard of them – and neither
does did the Moreland Commission.
Don’t get me wrong: like the poor, political corruption will always be with us. But the regular examination of conscience, and particularly an examination inspired by the nine ways, would hold it in check.
The United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, doesn’t stand a chance by comparison. He’ll find a couple of people to prosecute. And he’ll have a tough time winning convictions, not because there aren’t a lot of guilty people, but because that’s just the way it is.
Maybe the juries are right. Prosecuting and convicting doesn’t do much good. Something deeper is involved. Much deeper.
A lot of people have talked about changing the culture of corruption in Albany. As suggestions go, I submit you could do worse than encouraging examination of consciences and confession. In any case, it’s the only suggestion we at Lawyers on Strike have.