Sin and guilt.
Michael Leach's Soul Seeing column on sin and guilt was certainly coy (NCR, May 22-June 4). How else to describe an entire column devoted to the subject of masturbation that never even uses the word? The column also seems ambivalent about its topic. Let me be more direct: The idea that masturbation is wicked or sinful is just nonsense. Suggesting that adolescent boys should be able to avoid it through prayer and willpower is laughable.
All the guilt that boys like Leach and myself felt was cruel and unnecessary It did not arise spontaneously and naturally. The church taught us that not only were masturbation and even impure thoughts sinful, they were mortal sins, something that could lead to eternal damnation. This can generate incredible shame, guilt and anxiety in sensitive boys that carry over to adulthood. It is a terrible initiation for one's sexual awakening.
Such teachings are not only harmful to youth, but they are demeaning to God. Surely, an all-powerful, all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent deity has better things to do with his/her time than fixating on what boys are doing alone in their bedrooms. Such teachings demean God by portraying him/her to be as narrowly sexually obsessed as the church hierarchy. In the end, it is not adolescent boys, unwed couples living together, or those using birth control who need forgiveness for their sins: It is the institutional church itself for creating so much unnecessary pain.
Mike Leach wrote a great, relevant column on sin, guilt, fear and forgiveness, up to a point. He recalled the priests' stern condemnations of masturbation (by young teens with raging hormones, who had no available outlet in marriage). He talked about solitary sins, "if that's what they are," and "pathetic habits."
One implication: Avoid confessors who accept Vatican definitions of sexual sins. My earnest plea is more publicity for theologian Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, author of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Has she advocated reforming attitudes on sexual topics other than divorce and remarriage? Cleansing ourselves from guilt over Vatican definitions of sexual sins might not bring us closer to confidence in God if the definitions are misguided or outdated.