Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sinfulness: Ignorance is Not Bliss (a response to a reader's question)


Back in January I posted a couple of entries about Natural Family Planning; the first discussed reasons many people choose NFP over birth control regardless of religious or moral beliefs. The second entry about Why Natural Family Planning is Superior to Birth Control focused solely on the Catholic teachings & understanding of NFP and (hopefully) helped shed light on why we believe it is considered a moral tool for planning your family and birth control most certainly is not.

I received an interesting comment from an anonymous person on that second entry - and while I long ago responded directly to that comment I have since realized that, unless this person subscribed to get updates on their comment, they may have never seen my reply to their inquiry. Normally I'd say this isn't a big deal and that would be the end of it, but I think their question is a very important one that requires a clear explanation. For some reason (perhaps it's the Holy Spirit giving me a nudge) I was reminded of this comment today and felt a strong desire to post my response directly on the blog so anyone else with the same confusion will hopefully come to a more complete understanding of the topic at hand.

The anonymous comment read as follows:
You mention a lot in your blogs that things aren't sins if you're ignorant about them... and then you go on to inform people which seems like you're encouraging people to commit sin? Could you discuss that in a future blog post? I don't get why you would try to teach people about things if you know it's just going to affect their salvation? Thanks for answering my question!

My response to their inquiry (with some added emphasis):
Perhaps I should clarify: even if someone doesn't KNOW something is sinful, it's still sinful. The fact that the person has never been educated about the sinful nature of something means it's unintentional, which can "diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1860)

By informing people that what they have done is sinful that is in no way CAUSING them to sin...they've already sinned, although we don't know to what degree God will have mercy on their ignorance and hold them accountable -- rather, educating them wakes them up to the fact that they've been doing something sinful. At that point it's their responsibility to act accordingly, and then they have the knowledge to repent and stop participating in a particular sin if it's an ongoing one.

Also, I'd like to point out that the Catholic Church teaches that there are different degrees of sins. For example, sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin but there are 3 conditions that must be met for it to be classified as "mortal." One of the conditions is that they do it in full knowledge. If someone isn't aware of that fact and they have sex before marriage it wouldn't be a MORTAL sin for them, but it's still a sin. Here is what the Catechism has to say:

"Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest." (CCC, 1860)

Hopefully this clarifies that I am writing to inform people because I want them to be educated about sin so they can STOP. Sins are still sins whether unintentional or not...we just don't know to what degree we will be held accountable on our judgement day for any sins we committed but didn't know were sins. Personally I'd much rather be certain about what is sinful and what is not so that I can adjust my behaviors and help ensure I am able to repent and confess everything...rather than staying in the dark and taking chances with my salvation.

It's tempting to think that "ignorance is bliss" but that's not the case, because as is mentioned above "no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man." This means by not helping one another understand particular sins we're not really doing that friend a favor because we will be held accountable in some way for all our sins. By suggesting that educating people leads people to sin more assumes that people will continue to commit particular sins after they've been educated about it. Most people that don't know something is a sin don't want to keep doing it once they know...but [at that point] they are aware that if they do keep doing it, they are sinning...which means they are choosing that path for themselves. Knowledge about all of it helps lead us to freedom from these sins because we are then able to do what is good.

Thank you for your comment, though! Perhaps I will need to write an entry to help clarify all of this.

Shakespeare quote. Source.
So there you have it. Now that I've re-posted that conversation from the comments section (nearly 2 and a half months later) I feel that I have more fully done my part to answer such an important question. Hopefully whoever asked it has read my response and better understands that me writing about or enlightening people about certain sins does not cause them to sin, nor am I doing so in order to somehow trap others in their own sins. As I said in my response to their comment, "Knowledge...helps lead us to freedom from these sins because we are then able to do what is good."

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him."
Luke 17:3-4


  1. I think you did a great job on the explanation! I love how you incorporated the Catechism.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad it made sense. Hopefully it reached whoever asked me the anonymous question. And thank you for reading!

  2. Good response...Always educate and speak the truth in love. I'm thinking of doing a NFP post soon too, and linking up to great resources to help answer folks questions and break down myths...