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McCabe on Sin and Fear

The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves – our fantasy selves.  I think that all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance.  To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self we can only love.  It is because we fail in realistic self-love that we fail in love for others.  So sin, too, means being terrified of admitting that we have failed. 

Herbert McCabe, God, Christ, and Us (New York: Continum 2005), 17-18.


  1. Tauratinzwe wrote:

    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
    –NIV 1 Jn 4:18

    H-m-m . . . I think this all fits together. I like the way McCabe says it.

    Sunday, September 9, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  2. Ma Tucker wrote:

    This quote seems very strange to me. One of the best tools that I have found to help nagivate the maelstrom of words and ideas that assail us is to ask a simple question – Where is the author pointing? If he points to Christ then fine, if not, his ideas are probably wrong or a least senseless.

    As Christians we believe that Christ is the perfect man. He represents what we truely are. It is in Him that true man is revealed. So what does Christ tell us about sin? Well we see it in the events of His life, in the tests he has undergone and the sin He encounters. Sin is the old demonic, it has one direction – to rebel against Truth. To seek to find in itself it’s own truth and it’s own way. Has Mr McCabe not fallen into this trap?
    It is not by finding realistic self love (whatever that means anyway) that we avoid sin. The fact is we CANNOT avoid sin -it is part of our condition – original sin. St Paul says as much in his letters on the flesh. So, what do you do. You fight the good fight, struggle to be perfect keeping your eyes firmly on Christ and running that race to the finish, all in the full knowlegde that Christ has put an end to the power of that demonic, has paid the price of all our iniquities. We hide in his wounds or another way to look at it, we are covered by the blood of the lamb. Purified by His sacrifice, we cannot do it, we could never do it by ourselves no matter how perfect we are. There is no fear, not because we don’t deserve punishment and that punishment is terrible – because we do, and it is, but because we know what Love has done for us, one time for all time, always effective.

    Taurantinzwe, John refers to perfect Love. If that perfect Love has shown us anything has it not shown us that it dies to self? How does this fit in with Mr McCabes ideal of perfect Love being a “realistic self-love”. I would contend it does not fit at all, it seems to contradict the Truth. Of course one could assume that Mr McCabe believes that “realistic self love” has only one identity, Christ’s Love (which is not self regarding but self sacrificing), but I think that is not clear from the above quote.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 5:13 am | Permalink

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