It’s either a clever turn if a phrase, or not. “I grew up in the Bible Belt…” the anonymous contribution to The Sun’s Readers Write section begins and concludes that “…it was better to be an honest sinner than a dishonest churchgoer.”
The phrase that arrested my attention is “honest sinner.” Juxtaposing words in that fashion are delicious.
So, I looked up the etymology of the words to see if the anonymous author is clever or something else.
“Honest” comes from the Latin meaning “honorable.”
“Sinner,” or its root word “sin,” as far as I can find comes from the Latin meaning “guilty,” thus sinner means “guilty one.” Further, “sin” means to “miss the mark,” specifically, “to miss the mark of righteousness.”
So the anonymous author constructs a phrase meaning “honorably guilty” or “honorably missing the mark.” Either conclusion (“honorably guilty” or “dishonorably attending church”) seems disappointing. To open up the phrase a bit more — the author proposes that it is better to honorably miss the mark than to charade dishonorably in church. At this point I realize that the anonymous author reveals a logic similar to that of wet noodles. I’m too disappointed to continue to write about the author’s logical fallacies and philosophical short cuts.
Maybe “honest” was the wrong word? However, words can grow beyond their etymologies — the author probably meant “honest” in the sense of “not-hiding-anything” not “honorable.” Basically, sin is better than hypocrisy. Which I’m inclined to agree with, but not really on any philosophical grounds — simply because hypocrisy stinks.
You may be correct. “Honest” may be the wrong word or maybe “honest” should be left out entirely. I’ve noticed that when writers present a defensive or weak argument they tend to amp up adjectives and adverbs as a device to influence readers. I suspect the anonymous writer’s tone reveals a false boldness that gives way to insecurity.
I agree. Hypocrisy stinks. (And I’m such a word nerd that I looked up the word’s origin and found that it comes from the Greek meaning to play a part as in acting upon a theater stage.) The theme of the writer’s contribution is pretending. In one passage, the writer confesses to being a deacon in church and enjoying dive bars. The writer appears to express guilt about being a hypocrite and resigns as deacon to pursue other interests in strip clubs.
What was disappointing to me is that the writer doesn’t entirely commit to a theism or humanism or atheism, but rather squirms at his own revelation of a moral law (John Locke writes about this describing it as natural law). As a reader, I was hoping that the writer would abandon one view for another, but the writer doesn’t do that.