I recently read an address given by the Reverend Canon Dr. Lauren Artress in which she discusses the work of the twelfth-century abbess, Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard had been pledged to the Church as a young child and served as a nun the remainder of her life, but it was not until she suffered a severe and prolonged illness in her 40’s that she developed a deep relationship with God, began to see visions and to tap into her wellspring of creativity.
After recovering from her illness, the abbess wrote of how the Church had missed out on our spiritual connection to the universe and had developed a doctrine of a Christ as a policeman of small sins rather than a loving God of creation. Reverend Artress interprets Hildegard’s ideas:
The Christian tradition divides sins into two categories, warm sins and cold sins. We pay a great deal of attention to warm sins, sins of the flesh, and we ignore the cold sins, sins of the hardened heart. We covet our excessive resources, greedy and without care for those who have no food or shelter.
Now, I find this to be a criticism of us in the church today as well — and the practice of religion in general through the ages. I think it is much easier to follow rules than to follow our hearts. Thus, we learn as converts to religion and as children raised in the church to follow particular rules and to progress in life through developing obedience to particular commandments. These are the warm sins. Many people operate as if they can be a ticket-holder to the celestial kingdom (whatever that means) by abstaining from coffee, tea, alcohol, cigarettes, sex outside of marriage, by paying tithing, attending church and staying awake for some portion of the meetings. These things are not taught to the exclusion of listening to the spirit and developing deeper meaning in religion. However, I think we are encouraged by our leadership and by our own lack of self knowledge to stop at this level of warm sin and not move on to breaking through our cold sins.
There is a lot of value in not committing warm sins, so don’t mistake this post for a justification for cheating on our taxes or having a sip of wine. My theory on sin is this: many commandments (warm sin ones) give us the guidance we need in order to have open minds and loving hearts. They eliminate unhelpful distractions and place a modicum of responsibility on our shoulders towards our fellow persons. But they don’t go far at all in teaching us how to be truly loving and giving in the way that we must be in order to come to Christ. Of course, it is not meet that we be commanded in all things. Is this just something we have to figure out in our own hearts?
The question I am putting is, not why are there warm sins and cold sins, but why do we care so much about warm sins? I guess I am reacting to the perceived self-righteousness of many “religious” people in this world who may abstain from certain activities associated with warm sins, but whose hearts are cold to the needs of humanity. I don’t like it. Is this a problem, or am I just too much of a Liahona Mormon?