In 1973 Karl Menninger released a best seller titled “Whatever Became of Sin?” Menninger was a highly regarded physician with years of experience applying psychiatric therapies to those beset with anxiety, depression, gloom, discouragement, and a wide array of mental health issues.
He presented the world with a very simple conclusion. Those who suffer often do so while denying personal culpability and any sense of personal sin. He noted, for example, that almost all incarcerated criminals remain actively indifferent to the reality of their own guilt while passionately blaming others for their predicament.
At the end of the book Menninger concluded that moral values are an essential element of good mental health. He went further and said that mental health and moral health are identical.
Practically speaking, he exhorted, values like honesty, humility, and acknowledgement of guilt form strong walls of protection against the arrows of anxiety, depression, and other maladies of the mind.
Sadly, Menninger’s poignant message to our society has been long forgotten. In fact, we’ve taken the whole sin thing one step further.
Not only has personal culpability become taboo, but now so has any sense of guilt for sin. We live in a society where everyone knows things aren’t right, but no one believes they are wrong.
More recently, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson have authored a book titled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).” Following in Menninger’s footsteps but traversing a bit further, these authors have captured the essence of our society.
We are a nation of finger-pointers. All around us things are in decay, and it is always someone else’s fault.
Take the political situation, for example. Every problem we face has been brought about, and enhanced, by that other party. No sooner is a plan announced then it is denounced by those wearing a different jersey.
The Democrats are sure America is heading in the wrong direction, and the Republicans are sure the demise started under the Democratic administration.
The working class is sure the rich are stealing the country, while the wealthy are sure we are being ruined by those who refuse to work hard. One race is sure the other races is to blame for its pain and suffering, while every race is adamant it haven’t done anything wrong.
Simply put, the wages of sin are everywhere being paid out in anger, divisiveness, violence and pain. And everyone knows it’s someone else’s fault.
At one point in our American history, a boy named George Washington was set up as a hero for admitting he chopped down a cherry tree. He refused to lie, refused to deny, and showed a heart of contrition by admitting to the deed.
Remember when confession was good for the soul? Remember when admitting you created the mess was the first step in cleaning it up?
And can you remember when our neighborhoods were clean, safe and happy because everyone took responsibility for his or her own words, actions and lives?
I do. I remember when strength meant being willing to admit your mistakes. I remember when confessing and apologizing were marks of sterling character and maturity.
I remember when finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and slanderous lies were all considered repugnant and unworthy of honest people. And I remember when pointing out a deficiency in an opponent’s plan came with an honest desire to work together to make it better.
Karl Menninger asked the question, “Whatever became of sin?” The answer is clear. It didn’t go away. It just found a cozy refuge in our hypocritical, blame-shifting souls.
It’s still there, causing all kinds of problems, and the only remedy is to admit, confess our own wrongdoings, and seek the forgiving grace and mercy of the only one who can forgive sin and reform our hearts.
And then, as whole people, maybe we’ll have the courage to attack the problems rather than one another, and to find a way to leave our children a nation that is truly one, under God, indivisible, that offers freedom and justice for all.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.