Saint Anthony of Egypt

The Worst Religious Sin

Saint Anthony of Egypt
Image: Wikipedia

Abba Anthony said: “The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying: ‘You are insane because you are not like us.’”

Never doubt for a minute that “keeping up with the Joneses” is not as much a religious phenomenon as it is an economic one. Being like the people we want to have like us is a social phenomenon of major proportions. Grounded in fear or greed, it can cause whole populations to shift social behaviors like schools of sh change direction.

Social psychologists call it “herd behavior” or the “mob mentality” and have been studying facets of it since the nineteenth century. No one knows better than economists the dangers of it now. And no small part of it happens in religion. Because some people begin to predict the end of the world, other people set calendar dates for a world catastrophe and stack their backyard bunkers with supplies enough to last for years. Worse still, religious madness may well be more engrained in social thought than other social ills. The witch burnings in the United States—the executions of women for “consorting with the devil”— completely belie the very founding ideals of the country.

Suppression of religious freedom throughout the world exposes the grain of ignorance that runs through every society that claims concern about God. The attacks on churches in the Middle East, the tribal wars in Africa, the laws of exclusion that followed the great wars of religion in Europe right up to the twentieth century, are clear proof that we all have sinned. We name “difference” madness and make mad attempts to stamp out the other.

But the Desert Monastics, the most “catholic” of Catholics in an age of pristine revelation, would have none of it. Abba Anthony brooks no doubt: Exclusion in the name of God is the very worst of religious sins. God speaks in many tongues and to every color and age of people. It is not ours to decide where God’s favor lies.

But it is ours to see as a spiritual task the obligation to come to our own opinions. We are not to buy thought cheaply. We are not to attach ourselves to someone else’s decisions like pilot sh and simply go with the crowd. We are meant to be thinking Christians.

Religious persecution of blacks and Irish and Protestants and women and gays and Muslims, just because it is the tenor of the time, is to our eternal shame. To make these things acts of faith, which we have over time, all of us and each of us, is the greatest in delity to our Creator God. It is the very kind of rejection that ranged against Jesus. He was a Galilean. And he had the gall to speak up for Canaanites and lepers and women and Samaritans and the poor and the stranger in the land. He refused to bow to the social pressure that comes with being “other.” So they cast him out of the pale of his religion; or, like Nicodemus, snuck in to see him only at night; or in the square called, “Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him!”

And Jesus left to all of us the obligation to speak up on issues that threaten to erode our humanity. To speak out for the innocent and oppressed. To speak on, however long it takes and whatever the pressures ranged against us. To speak up when we hear around us the strategies of those who would balance the national budget by denying the hungry food stamps, and children good education, and the unemployed and underpaid decent lives, and the strangers in the land a way to become community.

Our obligation is not to be like those who would secure themselves by making others insecure. Our obligation is to be like Jesus. And that is anything but insane.


Excerpted from In God’s Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics, by Joan Chittister.

Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is an internationally known writer and lecturer and the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, she served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses, and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for twelve years. Sister Joan received her doctorate from Penn State University in speech communications theory. She has written more than forty books and received numerous awards for her work on behalf of peace and women in church and in society.



In God's Holy Light by Joan Chittister