A post-Christian perception of sin and forgiveness
The argument of this thesis is that ideas and values relating to sin and forgiveness, deemed appropriate for theocratic and hierarchical societies, have lost authority in the increasingly democratic and egalitarian context of a post-traditional and post-Christian Britain. It seeks to show this by describing the shift in understanding of the concepts of sin and forgiveness from the period of the Hebrew Bible, through the Christian era until the present day, using examples from literature and art in the process. The need to identify 'sin' in the form of personal and social transgressions, and the need to find ways of healing the damage that these cause, is however a basic human task. As the role of the Churches in individual and interpersonal trauma has diminished, a range of therapies, some quasi-religious, some psychological, some resolutely secular, has offered alternative responses to distress. Where criminal activity is involved the task has become the prerogative of the State. As a nation however we appear to be unable to find satisfactory ways of addressing what are seen to be areas of moral ambiguity in both individual sin and structural sin. What appears to be individual sin is illustrated by reference to four case studies. One is the story of Myra Hindley who has now spent thirty-five years in prison as a result of decisions by a succession of Home Secretaries. The other three are stories of children who have been killed, on two occasions by other children, on one occasion by a paedophile. Three case studies of poverty, slavery and violence illustrate structural sin. The conclusion of the work is that British society is hovering between two paradigms, one of retributive, one of restorative justice. What is being left behind is the Judeo-Christian belief in sin only as an offence against God, requiring repentance and atonement, which lead to forgiveness and redemption. The emerging paradigm, while not yet clear, appears to be developing through a belief in the equal value of human beings, the power of truth and of justice allied to compassion based on a shared citizenship.