Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 6E

Now, I will raise a question that must be visited more than once: Does a Judeo-Christian nested structure underlie Menninger’s nested form of crime(sin(symptom)) as well as the Progressive nested form of crime(political incorrectness(symptom))?

The question itself hints that Menninger has already indicated a Judeo-Christian nested form beneath the Progressive.

But is that enough?  Are there even deeper forms?

One clue comes at the start of chapter 6, with Menninger’s brief discussion and dismissal of the idea of “free will”.

He raised the idea then asked: What if you were not conscious of what you were doing?

“Free will” clearly does not underlie “symptom”.

“Symptom” belongs to a different “coordinate axis” than “free will”.

A “nested form that contains free will“ complements a “nested form that contains symptom”, even though both “free will” and “symptom” label “coping with the stress of pleasure seeking and pain avoidance”.

So the nested patterns so far are, for Menninger’s original axis:


Then there is a suggestion of a complementary Judeo-Christian axis. We can only guess:

Possibly – something like divine judgment(sin(something to do with free will))

Notably, both nested forms intersect in the realm of actuality.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 6D

As noted in the introductory blogs, at the same time that Menninger proposed that “sin” go into the slot for the realm of actuality, the Public Cult of Progressivism had already initiated a host of alternatives that now fall under the label “political incorrectness”.

So, Menninger’s argument ended up as crime(political incorrectness(symptom)).

This substitution does not change the nested structure.  However, it does change the point of accountability.

According to Menninger, God holds the person accountable.  “Sin” is a “transgression of the law of God; disobedience of the divine will; moral failure.  Sin is failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances; failure to do as one ought towards one’s fellow man (Webster)” (18-19).

According to the Public Cult of Progressivism, the central state holds the person accountable.  “Sexist”, “polluter”, “racist”, “capitalist”, “homophobe” blame the person in precisely the way that “sin” does?

Is there a difference?

Perhaps it is this:

In Christianity, the accuser is also a sinner.

In Progressivism, the accuser is a saint.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 6C

In Chapter 6, Menninger showed how some “sins” were replaced by “symptoms” as “signs of coping with dis-ease”, where the “dis-ease” derived from the two drives of “seeing pleasure and avoiding pain”.

In the frame of the nested form, however, “symptoms” do not replace “sins”.  Instead, “symptoms make sins possible”.

Thus, Menninger’s argument can be encapsulated in the nested form of crime(sin(symptom)).

“Crime” puts “the actuality that is sin” into context.

“Symptoms” make “the actuality of sin” possible.

“The actualities of sin” make “crime” appear real.

“The actualities of sin” situate various “symptoms”.

In Menninger’s perspective, even though “sin” has been eclipsed by “crime” and “symptoms”, the term remains important.  Even if you excluded “sins that had been declared crimes” and “sins that could be explained as symptoms”, a lot of territory remained.

From the nested point of view, all the territory remains.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 6B

Menninger deftly led the reader from “free will” to “symptom”.  A “symptom” is may be a sign of “illness” or a sign of “coping with illness”.

What is the nature of the “dis-ease”?  Menninger presents two drives that make life hard (92).

The first drive inspires us to make bad choices.  Many of our choices start as pluses in the short run and end up as minuses in the long run.  In many ways, these choices have the feel of self-punishment.  As in, “I knew that I should not do it, but …”.

The second drive inspires us to avoid bad consequences; that is, to choose the lesser of two evils.  In many ways, these avoidances have the feel of self-preservation, even though they inevitably increase risk.  As in, “If I tried to solve the problem, I would have to pay the price.  So I just kicked the can down the road.”

Perhaps, the two drives could be called, “seek pleasure; avoid pain”.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 6A

The nested formula for Menninger’s analysis up though Chapter 5 is crime(sin()), indicating that an element is missing and that element belongs to the realm of possibility.  Chapter 6 fills in the blank.  The title of the chapter is “Sin into Symptom”.

What makes “sin” possible?  Menninger considered several perspectives on “free will”, including the legalist, the moralist and the behavioralist.

Then he posed a question: What if a “sin” is unwittingly committed?

All of us are under the illusion that we are in control of ourselves.  But, what if our “voluntary” behaviors are – somehow – produced by “involuntary” processes (74-80)?

What appears to be “sin” may be a symptom.

The question is: A symptom of what?  An illness?  A syndrome?

Or could a symptom actually be a sign of a constructive response of an over- or under- stressed system?

Consider the sin – er, symptom – of “swearing”.  Swearing is a tension-relieving device.  As such, it may a healthy response to surprise or frustration.  When swearing is habitual, then it may be a symptom of an “as healthy as one can get” response to some chronic surprise or frustration (89).

Habitual swearing may be a coping mechanism for a greater problem, just like a crutch is a coping mechanism for difficulties with walking.

So a symptom may not be simply a sign of an “illness”.  It may be a sign of “coping with an illness”.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 5J

Where did this the cornerstone, er, buttonhole analogy come from?

An Archaeology of the Fall relies on a psychoanalyst who wrote at the same time as Menninger.  He was a “sinner” as well.  His name: Jacques Lacan.

Unlike Menninger, Lacan went to high school in France. He learned all about scholasticism (which, like all psychiatrists-to-be, he totally rejected).

However, according to The Premodern Condition by Bruce Holsinger (University of Chicago Press: 2005), Lacan did not purge what he learned.  Scholasticism re-emerged years later – as if a specter in a dream – from Lacan’s (now, psychoanalytically trained) unconscious.

Did Jacques Lacan unconsciously construct his theories while consulting the ghost of Thomas Aquinas.

How strange is that?


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 5H

An Archaeology of the Fall presents theory that applies to the social sciences.

Progressivism is a broad “language” that contains many specialized “languages”.

In 2012, many colleges offer degrees in these specialized disciplines, including criminology (covered in Chapter 5) and other social sciences (covered in Chapter 6).

Like a whirling machine with gears within gears, the entire system is in the process of lifting off as a set of social constructions that depends on world-defining but technically indefinable drivers, such as those that fill the buttonhole of “political incorrectness”.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 5G

Menninger observed a “substitution” of the designation “sin” by the designation “crime”.

From the approach of this blog, this “substitution” is better described as an emergence, according to a nested formula: crime(sin()).

This emergence most likely appeared before the turn of the 20th century, before the eclipse of the taboo against masturbation and the decline of use of the word “sin”.

As of 1973, no substitute for the word “sin” had entered the lexicon.  The gap was filled with technical terms such as “deviancy” as well as pejorative accusations such as “racism” and “sexism” and “homophobia”.

As of 1993, the word “political incorrectness” became an umbrella term labeling these technical terms and pejoratives.

The nested formula: crime(political incorrectness()) partially answers Menninger’s title question.


Thoughts on Whatever Became of Sin? By Karl Menninger MD (1973) 5F

Menninger’s hypothesis was that a recovery of the concept of “sin” could be a more effective deterrent than state control of “crime”.

He proposed his guess at the time when the term “sin” fell into disfavor.

Menninger thought that the word “crime” replaced “sins” in many instances.

The criminalization of “sin”, however, may have been a consequence of a breakdown among families, churches, communities and guilds in the face of unrelenting changes in communication and production.  Accusations of “sin” no longer were effective deterrents.

Advances in both “technologies of the intellect” and “modes of production” set the stage for the emergence of new symbolic orders, often with horrifying consequences.

The Public Cult of Progressivism in the United States, like previous Modern Cults, aims to regulate all aspects of human life in regards to political correctness.

Unfortunately, these regulations will be internally inconsistent (because all sorts of “buttons” fit into the buttonhole of “political correctness”).

People will not know how to respond to many conflicting demands and accusations of immorality.  Some will haphazardly find themselves subject to criminal prosecution, caught in a web of multiple rules.  Uncertainty will prevail.  Economic activity will falter because contracts increasingly depend on the caprice of some regulator.

Gorgio Agamben wrote all about this:  He called this situation “the state of exception”.

Goldsmith and the Tao agree on the consequences.