Acid-tongue comedian George Carlin passed away in June of 2008. I never cared for his vulgarian brand of humor, especially his profane references for women who picket abortion clinics. Catholics have a much kinder brand of humor, one that is suitable for all ages. One of my favorite Catholic jokes asks, Did you hear the one about the nun with loose habits? It’s quick and to the point.
“Habit” is a word we don’t hear very much about any more either as an item of clothing or as a repetitive act of sinful behavior. In today’s secular climate all bad habits seem to be excusable because of the social or personal circumstances of the sinner. Secular society plays down any individual responsibility for sin or vice. So deep is the fear of being labeled judgmental that society has attributed a multitude of sinful behaviors to extraneous excuses, which have virtually exonerated the doer of any personal guilt.
Somewhere during the last half-century, Americans lost their deep, dark sense of sin that used to pester the conscience so that a sinner would rush to the Confessional. Now society only judges public wrongs and collective sins. This idea has become the standard conventional wisdom of our modern society, which teaches that alienated groups, such as conservatives, the religious right and abortion abolitionists, commit a collective sin by opposing societal progress and refusing to free themselves from the superstitious past when religion and churches guided personal behavior.
Other forces are also at work. In the case of homosexuality the alleged existence of a gay gene is given as proof of the innocence of their explicit kind of behavior. Alcoholism is considered a disease, when it was once considered a moral weakness in need of God’s grace and mercy. Now all that is needed is some good counseling and a support group.
James (1:14-15) compares a sinful addict to a fish or an animal that was caught with bait. The sinner is attracted to a sinful lure and becomes trapped within its snares. Such sinful addictions begin with the first temptation. The alcoholic, the sex addict, the philanderer — all these moral bad habits start with the first fiat, that first assent to experiment, let one’s hair down, be different or join the crowd.
I had my eyes opened to the depth of the addiction of pornography on a radio program I hosted years ago. Several callers “confessed” to their problem without using the victimhood defense. Not one of them was looking for the exempted kind of compassion found on Oprah’s couch. Many of these repentant individuals had resorted to prayer to break their unchaste habit of sin. Most realized they needed to establish alternate good habits of prayer, fasting and good works if they were ever going to break the sinful chain that had tethered their souls. Theologians and moralists alike call these alternate good habits virtues.
At that first moment of temptation, there is no addiction, no habit of sin and no way to blame it on social causes or genetic defects. That’s why the Bible reminds us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), and think about the good things (Philippians 4:8) found in Scripture. (Psalm 1:2). Virtues will flow from this change in behavior and diminish the urge to try on a loose habit of sin.