Friday, April 25, 2014

Hands Don't Call Us

What are the requirements for a sin to be mortal? It has to be (1) grave matter. You have to (2) know it's wrong, and you have to (3) willfully commit the sin. Number three requires intentionality - you can't accidentally commit a mortal sin. You have to choose to do it.

That's comforting, but lest we get too comfortable, don't forget the flip side. To be forgiven of your sins, you have to (1) confess your sins, (2) show contrition, and (3) intend to amend your ways. You have to want to not commit the sin again. Intentionality goes both ways.

The fictional analog that pops into my mind (which may just be a commentary on my mind!) is a scene from one of the Hellraiser movies: Hellbound (1988).

Our villain, Dr. Channard, is obsessed with the puzzle box that opens a gateway to Hell. He believes there is power to be had there (as many do), but he knows there is a cost -- his soul. Whoever opens the box and summons the cenobites* belongs to them.

Dr. Channard believes he has a way around the cost. He uses a proxy, a young semi-catatonic girl with an uncanny skill at puzzles. She opens the box effortlessly, summoning the cenobites.

When they arrive, they will not (or cannot) harm the girl. Their leader explains it poetically:
"Hands don't call us.  Desire does."
The girl carried out the act, yes, but she did it without full consent. She didn't understand what she was doing or intend to summon them. The images and thoughts that pop into our minds unbidden are not themselves mortally sinful, because we don't will them. The things we do accidentally or in ignorance are not mortally sinful.  No one accidentally damns themselves; you have to choose.

* The demons call themselves cenobites, a name stemming from the monastic tradition of living and praying in community. In this movie, as in real life, the demonic mocks.

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