A bomb exploded in our nation some years ago. In mid-America, of all places. The fuse was lit first in the mind of Karl Menninger, but its effect was not felt until his pen detonated the blasting cap. Suddenly—without prior warning—BOOM! His book Whatever Became of Sin stunned and shocked his colleagues.
Most of Menninger’s peers had put that hated word to bed decades ago. But now, the Karl Menninger, M.D., the Freud of America, whose book The Human Mind had introduced psychiatry to the American public back in 1930, that respected, competent pioneer of the profession, actually had the gall to reintroduce SIN to the vocabulary!
All had been relatively quiet on the Western front. America was still licking its wounds from the riots, campus rebellions, and political assassinations of the sixties. We were biting the bullet of a prolonged war in Southeast Asia. We were hearing rumblings with strange names back then—ecological concerns, energy crises, and “do your own thing.” Most of us sensed trouble was brewing . . . something was wrong. But none dared call it SIN.
Maybe our president would admit it. Lincoln did, way back in 1863. Eisenhower did, borrowing his words from Lincoln, when the Day of Prayer rolled around exactly ninety years later: “It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.”
But Eisenhower’s subsequent calls to prayer never mentioned that explosive term again. In fact, in 1972, Frederick Fox of Princeton University stated in a compelling article entitled “The National Day of Prayer”: “Since 1953, no President has mentioned sin as a national failing. Neither Kennedy, Johnson, nor Nixon. To be sure, they have skirted the word . . . . I cannot imagine a modern President beating his breast on behalf of the Nation and praying, ‘God, be merciful to us sinners.'”
“As a nation,” admitted one wag at the time, “we officially ceased ‘sinning’ some twenty years ago.”
Then came Menninger, who was gutsy enough to declare the truth. Was what he said new? No, not new. It had been there all the time. It just needed to be declared.
May we all have the courage to say that—to call sin, SIN.
Some words need to be deleted from our vocabulary; others need to be reinstated.