Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 18: The Loss of the Sense of Sin, Part 3: Psychology and Sociology

He might be right. Pope John Paul II attributed part of The Loss of the Sense of Sin to modern efforts in psychology. That’s worth exploring, though with caution. In general, psychologists are tasked with healing the minds and emotions of people who find themselves in varying degrees of illness or distress. A sense of contrition, Christian or otherwise, most often comes from an internal realization. That can be nudged from the input of others. I’m not sure it’s the job of the psychologist to engage a sense of wrongdoing in others, except as part of a greater whole that aims to healing. That said, people misunderstand their therapists and counsellors. And the resistance to recognizing sin is a human constant. Let’s read:

Another reason for the disappearance of the sense of sin in contemporary society is to be found in the errors made in evaluating certain findings of the human sciences. Thus on the basis of certain affirmations of psychology, concern to avoid creating feelings of guilt or to place limits on freedom leads to a refusal ever to admit any shortcoming.

Other scientists look at the whole of society:

Through an undue extrapolation of the criteria of the science of sociology, it finally happens-as I have already said-that all failings are blamed upon society, and the individual is declared innocent of them. Again, a certain cultural anthropology so emphasizes the undeniable environmental and historical conditioning and influences which act upon (a person), that it reduces (their) responsibility to the point of not acknowledging (their) ability to perform truly human acts and therefore (their) ability to sin.

I suppose many scientists are less schooled in matters of moral theology. I also suspect that the human tendency to avoid blame comes into play by latching on to any excuse. Christians are not immune from this tendency in sacred disciplines, especially blaming the influence or presence of supernatural beings with malicious intent. In that sense, perhaps psychologists and sociologists are a bad influence in the way exorcists might be. The individual person remains culpable.

One positive modern development connected with the human sciences might be 12-Step movements. Casual practitioners also misunderstand and abuse the recovery process. But the admission of personal fault is a hallmark of AA and its daughter traditions. It engages an adult recognition of sin in ways that the Catholic second-grade prep for confession perhaps fails.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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