The Sacrament of Penance
Many religions, throughout history, have required the confession. When a member of a the Catholic faith or LDS faith commit larger sins, they are required to confess these sins to one in authority. The person is generally male (in the LDS religion it is ALWAYS a man) and this person is supposed to act as an agent of God to work on getting the person forgiven. I am not sure how the confession process works in other religions, like Baptist or Methodist.
Confession is called the “Sacrament of Penance” as:
1. the recipient must be truly repentant of their sins
2. be determined to avoid these sins in the future
3. be willing to make reparations to any parties injured
I believe that confession has been used for hundreds of years as a way to protect and enforce orthodox belief and practice. And the churches today have several methods for insuring adherence to orthodox belief– excommunications, ecclesiastical courts, public expiation…and I have been wondering this week if this is simply cultivating within us a culture of guilt.
A question I have been thinking about this week is “why confess to a man you may not know, instead of to God directly?”
And what is the purpose of confession?
Have you found that when you confess something you feel better? Is a weight lifted? Does it purge your soul?
A dear friend of mine and I have been on similar paths this year. She has fallen away from the strict rules of the LDS church as much as I have. However, we differ in VERY large ways. I don’t believe in these strict rules anymore and thus, I don’t believe I am sinning (and I am not even sure how I feel about the way the word sin and especially SINNER is used so commonly in religion today). While I feel completely happy in my life, she has been tormented in her soul. While I have been wondering why I don’t feel riddled with guilt (as I did for much of my life any time I thought I had done anything “wrong”). She has been sobbing and beating herself up and dying a little inside each day.
So last night she decided to confess to her Bishop. I found this whole process, a process I have engaged in before, completely insane. Why does some older man I have NEVER talked to or interacted with, a man who doesn’t know me or doesn’t know my situation…why does he have the right to tell me whether or not I should feel good or bad about myself?
Do these spiritual leaders really have the authority to tell you your standing with God?
She is a grown woman of 31. She has made wise decisions her whole life. She has hurt no one. She is one of the most beautiful and sensitive people I know. And yet, because she isn’t meeting the standards she has been taught, she has felt lower than Gregor Samsa after he turned into the bug! (sorry, I just reread The Metamorphosis). After her confession she called me crying. I am unsure about whether or not I should go into the details, but basically it was her sitting across from three men who decided what she could and couldn’t do in the church. She had no one there with her, and she felt completely despondent and overwhelmed that she had to discuss personal details of her life to these three men who then told her what she must do to be in good standing with God again. She had to give up her calling. She can’t take the sacrament, and she was given a pretty harsh warning about what would happen to her should she ever commit the sin again. As she told me all of this, I felt myself getting angry about what she had to endure.
Is confession merely something created by men to exercise some form of control over the masses (do this and this and you will be granted this reward)? Does is simply play into creating a religious hierarchy (it’s actually quite similar to the old feudal systems)? It was often used as a method for discovering and eradicating heresy, is it so today?
Does is have any value?
I honestly don’t know. I’ve been raised to believe that you must confess and forsake your sins to get to heaven. But the past year I just haven’t felt right about it.