Sinful Thoughts

One of my failings as a human being is that I get angry a lot. I am the archetypal angry old man – but I was an angry young man as well. There is a lot in the world to get angry about, but it is a corrosive disposition and my life would be more pleasant if I could let go of it more. My family are used to it by now, and leave me to steam. But they know that I would never let my anger boil over into actions that would harm them or anyone else. There is a vast gulf between thought and action. Indeed, even when my anger manifests as hatred of people and ideas, that gulf still exists. Until Orwell’s ‘thought police’ become a reality, hatred is not a crime either. Hate crime is when you do something hideously wrong on the basis of your hate. My thoughts are my own, and at the end of the day, I can think what I please. But Christians take a different view. They are obsessed with the concept of sin which is about thoughts as well as actions. God it seems would punish us for our inclinations as well as our deeds. This is one of the least alluring of the many religious innovations introduced to the world by St Paul, who for psychological reasons lost to time, was himself obsessed with his own sense of sinfulness. He saw all mankind as utterly corrupt in thought, word and deed. But if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in sin. There is no one to judge your thoughts, no matter how bad or even criminal, and society can and will only act against you if you actually do something that is against the law. 

Our dear old Church of England of course gets terribly confused about all this. And no more so than in the extreme arena of sexual sin. Apparently, for many Anglicans, it is OK to think about same sex acts, but not OK to do anything. I am not sure if this means that in this instance, the thought itself is not a sin, or that it is a lesser sin and they can rely on God’s forgiveness? To be honest, I can’t be bothered to work it out, since it is all daft. The real problem Christians face, made manifestly clear in the case of sexual urges but true of all thoughts, is that our thoughts are not our own. They come unbidden into our heads from the subconscious in a way that we cannot control. The moral issue, which has nothing to do with the concept of sin, is what we do about those thoughts. For example, the paedophile who has the most lurid thoughts about sex with young children, but who by an act of will, does nothing about them and/or seeks medical help to control them, seems to me to be someone we should respect and even admire. He didn’t choose to be that way; but he does choose to act by his moral compass, not his urges. Indeed, by my moral reckoning, he is vastly superior as a human being, to the priest who uses his privileged position to carry out the same urges and takes refuge in his god’s infinite forgiveness; or the church hierarchy that turns a blind eye to his crimes for years, and then takes refuge in the defence that society’s values have changed. The latter exposes utterly the moral bankruptcy of the Anglican church which espouses eternal, absolute truth on the one hand, but avails itself of moral relativity on the other when it suits them.