Friday, March 21, 2008

The resurrection of sin

Is there still a place for sin in modern society? The language has all but disappeared, but the concept may awaken a greater sense of moral responsibility.

The terrible fire of hell will not afflict the bodies of the damned only from without, but each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless fire raging in its very vitals … The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brains are boiling in the skull, the heart in the breast glowing and bursting, the bowels a red-hot mass of burning pulp, the tender eyes flaming like molten balls.— James Joyce's 1916 novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

THIS is the sort of language that traumatised generations. Such graphic injunctions about sin and its consequences (this was the most famous description of hell since Dante's Inferno) terrified countless young men and women, particularly those who were Catholic. Considerable determination, ingenuity and often cruelty went into "protecting" people from their base desires. But such efforts, however well-meaning, made the language of sin itself sinful.

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