Nov 2, 2018
By Zachary Neeley
Across Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, funerals would be graced by a stranger providing one last chance at savings the deceased’s soul. Bread or other simple food would be placed on the corpse, to absorb sin from its flesh, and then it would be consumed by the willing sin eater.
At the risk of their own soul, the sin eater offered absolution by accepting another’s damnable acts into their own body. The reminder of their dead relative’s failings couldn’t have been pleasant to the funeral goers but the threat of eternal hellfire made it well worth it. Living with our sins requires a certain kind of ingenuity to safely continue.
The chaotic aftermath of the presidential election left a sense in the air that things couldn’t possibly stay the way they were, one way or the other. Huge protests, the Women’s March, masses in the streets over Trump’s travel ban.
For a moment, I saw us close to a generation of centrists being radicalized, Republicans quietly going along with bigoted and reckless behavior being punished for a long time. Instead, you don’t have to look around long to see a new equilibrium created instead. Umbrage and outrage all over but also complacency, a stunning level of comfort and the growing realization that all the same people could vote for Trump again.
We have our own modern class of sin eaters, cleaning up after the powerful, sanding rough edges and searching for any false equivalence. Public figures and commentators who will sell the products of the Trump administration to those who would recoil from Trump himself.
Writers who have come to be viewed as centrist in relative terms, like David Brooks, Jonah Goldberg or Megan McArdle, offer up what would be considered fan fiction in another genre, discussing an idealized version of the administration’s actions then leaving themselves and their readers with a feeling that’s what actually happened. It’s usually accompanied by a fervent search for reasons Democrats are actually bad too. Little distractions and white lies add up until we can stomach what we see and move on.
In the past, only the destructive or desperate would ever fill this role. The modern version is quite profitable.
Sin eaters are more needed than ever. We have developed a massive system of avoiding culpability. Duties to shareholders and no one else turn corporations into machines relentless in their pursuit of profit at all costs. A world-wide economy means never in a whole life having to see the people making cheap products in a foreign factory.
Communities segregated by wealth and race keep us apart from reality. Look at a wealthy nation, proud of its freedom, democracy and equality, that freely murders its underclass, leaves people in the street or starving, strips the ability to vote and its value from as many as possible. This rotten way can only be consumed covered in syrupy deceit.
We may feel clean in the moment but truthfully there is no sin in that bread, we do not move ahead untouched. Our community can be honest with itself and uphold our values, we need to and we need each other to do so.
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