Mirror of Sin

My grandfather used to say that the habits or faults of other people that annoy us the most may be ones we are also guilty of. I guess that was his atheistic Quaker version of Luke 6:41. I am very often reminded of that lesson and it has been an important part of my maturation process and growth in faith. It's a lesson I have to relearn over and over again. It's painful, the saying true – no pain, no gain.

There are times (too many to count) God puts me in a situation in which I find myself correcting someone for a fault I too am guilty of. Sometimes I get sort of a "spider sense" feeling as I reprove a friend, knowing all the while that I'll learn Pop-pop's lesson before I'm through. Other times, I'm too blinded by my own self-righteousness to see what's coming. It's a very humbling a experience either way.

I'm writing about this now because events of yesterday and today have re-taught me that lesson. This morning, I was looking for an explanation of the sin of detraction. I found one and proceeded to read it, ready to copy and paste the bits that would help me correct a friend of mine. As I read the definition, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I realized that I'd been guilty of detraction on numerous occasions and didn't even think it might be sinful.

Detraction is related to calumny, which most Jews and Christians would recognize as breaking the commandment to not bear false witness against a neighbor. Usually we know when we're committing calumny. Detraction is a sin that doesn't get much mention in Christian circles, but it should. Here's part of the definition of detraction. Examine your heart.

(From Latin detrahere, to take away).

Detraction is the unjust damaging of another's good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer. An important difference between detraction and calumny is at once apparent. The calumniator says what he knows to be false, whilst the detractor narrates what he at least honestly thinks is true. Detraction in a general sense is a mortal sin, as being a violation of the virtue not only of charity but also of justice.


Those who abet another's defamation in a matter of moment by directly or indirectly inciting or encouraging the principal in the case are guilty of grievous injustice. When, however, one's attitude is simply a passive one, i.e. that of a mere listener, prescinding from any interior satisfaction at the blackening of another's good name, ordinarily the sin is not mortal unless one happens to be a superior. The reason is that private persons are seldom obliged to administer fraternal correction under pain of mortal sin (see CORRECTION, FRATERNAL). The detractor having violated an unimpeachable right of another is bound to restitution. He must do his best to put back the one whom he has thus outraged in possession of the fair fame which the latter hitherto enjoyed. He must likewise make good whatever other loss he in some measure foresaw his victim would sustain as a result of this unfair defamation, such as damage measurable in terms of money. The obligation in either instance is perfectly clear. The method of discharging this plain duty is not so obvious in the first case. In fact, since the thing alleged is assumed to be true, it cannot be formally taken back, and some of the suggestions of theologians as to the style of reparation are more ingenious than satisfactory. Generally the only thing that can be done is to bide one's time until an occasion presents itself for a favorable characterization of the person defamed. The obligation of the detractor to make compensation for pecuniary loss and the like is not only personal but becomes a burden on his heirs as well.

Read the rest of the definition here.

Update 09/21/06: I now know that my grandfather was paraphrasing a line from Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier's "The Chapel of the Hermits".

 "Search thine own heart. What paineth thee in others in thyself may be."

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

15 thoughts on “Mirror of Sin

  1. Anonymous

    “Finally, even when the sin is in no sense public, it may still be divulged without contravening the virtues of justice or charity whenever such a course is for the common weal or is esteemed to make for the good of the narrator, of his listeners, or even of the culprit.

  2. Tom Smith

    “I’d love to hear your definition of atheist, so we’re on the same page.”

    One who believes that no God exists.

    I’m sorry if I offended you, but all I was saying is that each of the Quakers I knew disbelieved in God, backing up Eric here. And one didn’t believe in the Inner Light either.

  3. Funky Dung

    I think I’ve been misunderstood. I’ll just assume it’s my fault and explain more clearly. 😉

    I definitely wasn’t trying to say that modern Quakers are all atheists. I meant only that they are no longer required to be Christians, or theists at all.

    “Faith and Practice” is a very apt title for a book on Quakerism, though perhaps not as the authors intended. There are two components to any religion (a word dervived from the Latin for “to bind”), Tradition and tradition. Tradition is the dogmatic component, i.e. faith. The other is comprised of the affects, i.e. practices. Generally, the official faith doesn’t change (much), but the practices do. If the faith changes enough, the original name for the faith becomes misleading and another is used. This seems to not be true for Quakerism, as I perceive it.

    Once upon a time, all Quakers held basically the same Tradition, namely faith in Jesus Christ and respect for the authority of the Christian Scriptures (and on paper they still do). Now, however, it seems that faith has been de-emphasized in Quakerism and the practices have taken prominence. Thus, it appears that faith in Jesus Christ is no longer a necessary condition to being Quaker. I compared modern Quakerism to Buddhism because Buddhism is a well-known set of practices without a faith.

    On the other hand, your example of ChrEasters as representatives of Catholic faith (or lack thereof) may be appropos. If modern Quakerism is still “officially” orthodox and Tom and I have only witnessed the bad apples, we should indeed be sorry for having insulted you and other faithful Quakers.

    It seems a bit problematic, though, to determine what constitutes orthodoxy in a religion that gives primary authority to individual consciences and whose gatherings are mostly autonomous from each other. I suppose I could read the equivalent to “Faith and Practice” put out by every yearly meeting, but that’s a bit time-consuming. It sure would be nice if there was a Quaker catechism. Heck, even a simple creed would be nice. It’s too bad rigid formulations of faith are kind of contrary to the very faith I’d like to see formulated. 😉

    Anyhow, with no central Quaker authority to which we can appeal, I hope you can see why Tom and I have found ourselves resorting to small-sample observations of individual Quakers in order to gauge modern Quaker faith.

  4. Tom Smith

    I think the original Quaker ideal speaks of an “Inner Light” inherent within each person. One need not believe in a deity to believe in an Inner Light. These days, however, one need not even believe in the Inner Light to be a Quaker. The few I knew in high school were all atheists.

  5. Tom Folsom

    I’m sorry, but that’s a very small, terrible sample, and one that’s an amazing generalization. In fact, almost insulting.

    I frequently attend two different meetings. One in Pittsburgh, and one near Philadelphia. I have never come from either with a view that they were atheist, nor have I ever felt that they were encouraging that. Having seen the lesson plans for first day school, and what they are teaching their youth, I find that even more absurd.

    Quakers believe in the Inner Light within everyone. That light can shine in many ways; this is one of the reasons why we are accepting of so many other religions, and variance in our own. It is that belief, a belief that each individual’s views are tied back to that inner light, that connects us all together.

    Now, I’d love to hear your definition of atheist, so we’re on the same page. But at both my meetings (one rather Christ centered, one not), I have never felt anything but grounded in a faith and belief that was meaningful and integral to the service, and the people.

  6. Funky Dung

    Immediately preceding that:

    “The determination of the degree of sinfulness of detraction is in general to be gathered from the consideration of the amount of harm the defamatory utterance is calculated to work. In order to adequately measure the seriousness of the damage wrought, due regard must be had not only to the imputation itself but also to the character of the person by whom and against whom the charge is made. That is, we must take into account not only the greater or lesser criminality of the thing alleged but also the more or less distinguished reputation of the detractor for trustworthiness, as well as the more or less notable dignity or estimation of the person whose good name has been assailed. Thus it is conceivable that a relatively small defect alleged against a person of eminent station, such as a bishop, might seriously tarnish his good name and be a mortal sin, whilst an offence of considerable magnitude attributed to an individual of a class in which such things frequently happen might constitute only a venial sin, such as, for instance, to say that a common sailor had been drunk. It is worthy of note that the manifestation of even inculpable defects may be a real defamation, such as to charge a person with gross ignorance, etc. When this is done in such circumstances as to bring upon the person so disparaged a more than ordinary measure of disgrace, or perhaps seriously prejudice him, the sin may even be a grievous one.

  7. Jim McCarville

    It is interesting that this thread carries a debate on two issues: detraction and the state of Quakerism. Ales Rarus made a statement about an atheistic Quaker, which he believed to be true and which others found to be damaging to their good name. Thanks to blogsphere, all of this was promptly communicated and Ales Rarus appears to have accepted an admonition.

    How many times a day does this happen and we do not become aware of the consequences of our statements.

  8. Alexa

    My old spiritual director gave me this example of “detraction”: Suppose a new parishioner came into your parish from out of state. This person became very involved in the parish and was highly respected for all their good works and even their personality was something everyone enjoyed. Then you found out that this new parishioner had actually left the other state in order to start a new life in your state, in your parish…they were leaving behind something awful, like perhaps they left an adulterous relationship or they were in prison or they’d been a prostitute. They left that way of life and started a new one where you are and in your community. If you found out about this somehow, and told anyone else about it, it would be a sin of detraction.

  9. Tom Folsom

    So I apologize for the length of time between posts, but I just got enough time to seriously consider a response.

    In response to Tom: Glad we have the same defintion.

    But you’re logic fails. Just because you know Quakers that do not believe in God (and even one that does not believe in the Inner Light), does not mean that Quakers are atheists. It means that those individuals are atheists, nothing more. (this line of argument also works with eric’s posting as well.) The exceptions are just that: Exceptions.

    Would you believe me if I used this arguement: Up untill college, all I knew of Roman Catholics were people who went to church on Christmas and Easter and didn’t believe in God, just went because they felt like they had to. Roman Catholics are Atheists.

    Even thought the basis for that statement is true, i’ll tell you now: I’d get laughed out of any room I’d say it in, anywhere.

    So those arguements are just terribly done, I’m sorry.


    I’m glad of your history with Quakerism. It’s nice to have someone who knows it is actually a religion, and not a brand of Oatmeal.

    Regardless, I’m still offended, but in quite an amused way.

    Your def of atheist seems to be: One who does believe in Christ. That’s a bit different than mine, and Tom Smith’s here: also, quite different than say, the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines it as “One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.”

    What I’m saying is, their movement from Christ, whether or not it’s true, (and depending on the meeting, that MAY be true, but remember, Quakers are hard to qualify totally, in any sense), is completely irrelevant. The fact that there may be Buddhist or Jewish Quakers is irrelevant. If they believe in a God, they are not an atheist. They may not be a Christian, and we can debate the merits of Quakers moving away from Christianity, but work on your wording, please.

  10. Jim McCarville

    The entry on detraction is one of the most interesting I have read anywhere in the last year, mostly because it is such a common practice. I am not so focused on whether it is appropriate to disclose knowledge about real misbehavior (which one sometimes has an obligation to do) as I am on all of the “cheap shots” one hears and makes in the course of the day. I haven’t reflected on the seriousness of this in decades, but I will start.

    Consider how the “one-liners” on Leno, Letterman, etc. have led to a general distrust of politicians and reduced serious public discourse to the level of entertainment. Maybe I can remember this the next time I am tempted to say something that I may think is true, but know that it is only part of the story.

  11. Funky Dung


    If Quakerism has not devolved into faithless practices, I am sorry for saying it has, and if it is still Christ-centered, I am not only sorry, but also overjoyed. I have a great deal of respect for Quakerism and I suspect that if I had not found the Catholic Church, I might have tried out being a Quaker. Total renouncement of sacraments and liturgical practice seems to be the natural and logical conclusion upon the rejection of Sacred Tradition and the authority of the Church, i.e. the Reformation. Either one reconsiles oneself with the Church (as I did) or one rejects all ecclesial authority and becomes an orthodox Quaker, guided solely by Holy Spirit and a supportive community.

    Anyhow, thanks for keeping me on my toes and keep on keepin’ on. 😉

  12. Funky Dung

    Tom, I’m sorry to have offended you. I’m just going off of personal experiences (family and elsewhere). I have a great deal of respect for orthodox Quaker faith. I’ve read “Faith and Practice” a couple times. My family has a long history of Quaker practice, dating back to the introduction of Quakerism to Wales in the mid-17th century.

    Quakerism was originally very clearly an expression of Christian faith and grounded in Biblical truths. However, over the years, Quakers seems to have drifted farther and farther from Christ. I know this isn’t universal, but it’s sadly widespread. Quakerism has, for many, become a philosophy of living, like Buddhism, rather than a religious faith. Some theistic Quakers aren’t Christian. I’ve heard of Buddhist and Jewish Quakers. My grandfather was an atheist Quaker (Wrightstown Meeting). I’m fairly certain several of the men from his men’s group were atheist Quakers. An uncle was an atheist Quaker (until he recently became “born again”).

    I suppose characterizing Quakerism in terms of orthodoxy and heterodoxy is difficult since each meeting is so autonomous. Still, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that on the whole Quakerism is no longer the undeniably Christian faith it once was.

    I don’t think I need to define atheist any differently than a dictionary would. I would merely add that spiritual practices do not a theist make. Just ask the Buddhists.

    Again, I am sorry if I offended. Interfaith and interdenominational dialogue are very imprtant to me, as is respect for the dignity of all persons. Please no that I that I take great pains to not deliberately offend. I often challenge and provoke, but I try very hard not to insult.

    My readers are important to me. Please continue to raise concerns as the need arises.

  13. Funky Dung

    Yup. The Quakers just ain’t what they used to be. A lot of meetings have devolved into social gatherings. They still do the silent contemplation thing, but the worship component is nearly nil. My grandfather went to meeting most First Days (what Quakers call Sundays), but to my knowledge he had no faith in any deity.

  14. Pingback: Repost: Mirror of Sin @ Ales Rarus

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