The limitations of blaming the sin and not the sinner

Like many slogans or one-liners, “blaming the sin and not the sinner” is a valuable rule to keep in mind.

It can guard against anger and help us focus on deeper reasons for human transgression.

At the same time, “blaming the sin and not the sinner” can lead us astray.

An example of this is alcoholism.

In many cases of alcoholism, the sin did not become apparent until long after the sinner had become addicted. I do believe that alcoholism is a complex disease that often reaches a point of no-return before anyone realizes what is happening.

Most people do not become addicted and prohibition doesn’t work, so the general conditions that permit the disease of alcoholism to survive are not going to change. Each person has to figure out how to manage those conditions on their own. And this includes enablers as well as problem drinkers.

Another example of a good but restricted slogan is the Christian injunction to”forgive.”

Since human beings do not have the power to cleanse someone else’s soul, forgiveness in the human realm can only mean “not taking revenge.”

But not taking revenge is rarely the moral end of the matter, as hatred can fester in the heart for decades.

Forgiveness, like blaming the sinner and not the sin sin and not the sinner, is a first step in the right direction.

In the case of a genuine offense, forgiveness may lead to emotional and mental sublimation where the victim is able to completely extirpate anger and sadness by recognizing that what they really want is not for the sinner to suffer but to reform.

With alcoholism, a similar process might involve understanding the condition and acting reasonably based on that understanding.

2 comments on “The limitations of blaming the sin and not the sinner

  1. John Range says:

    Hi ABN

    You wrote
    “Forgiveness, like blaming the `sinner and not the sin’, is a first step in the right direction.”

    Was this what you meant to write? Or did you mean to write
    “Forgiveness, like blaming the `sin and not the sinner’, is a first step in the right direction.”

    The title and subsequent discussion seems to establish a semiotic parity between the phenomenon of “forgiveness” and that of “blaming the sin and not the sinner” in the sense of pointing out that they both have limitations.

    But then in the above quoted sentence, “forgiveness” is bundled with “blaming the `sinner and not the sin’ ” which seems to establish a semiotic parity in the sense of them both being good first steps.

    These two, thus established, semiotic parities strike me as incompatible. Consequently I am confused as to whether or not you actually meant to write “blaming the `sinner and not the sin'” or whether it was a typo and you actually meant to write “blaming the `sin and not the sinner'”

    As I very much enjoy your blog and value your various insights, I am hoping you will see fit to please clarify your intent for me.

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