What is Sin?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sin is
an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."
Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (paragraphs 1849-1850).
What is Mortal Sin?
All sins, unlike all people, are not created equal. Some sins are so heinous that they destroy the life of grace in our souls. It is impossible to attain salvation apart from this "spiritual life" of grace. If we die without grace, we will descend into Hell. This isn't a positive punishment, like getting a speeding ticket for driving too fast. It is a natural consequence, like getting cancer from smoking cigarettes. It isn't something God does to us, it rather is something we have freely chosen to do ourselves. These sins, the ones that kill our souls, are traditionally called "mortal sins".
What Conditions Must be Present for a Sin to be Mortal?
There are three conditions that all must be present for a sin to be mortal. Grave matter (it must be a serious sin), full knowledge (you have to know what you are doing), and complete consent (you can't sin mortally by accident). If any of these three elements are missing, a sin cannot be mortal. Full knowledge and complete consent are so essential the Catechism says,
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (1859)Isn't this what the Meme is Getting at?
Here is where we get to our meme creator's misunderstanding. He has fumbled the meaning of full knowledge, thinking that someone (an Eskimo here) who hadn't learned the theological concept of mortal sin would automatically go to heaven (being unable to have the full knowledge necessary to commit a mortal sin, which in turn in necessary to commit to go to Hell). The idea here is that the Eskimo lacks the knowledge that any act could be sinful, therefore he cannot commit a mortal sin. In other words, ignorance is bliss.
Why is the Meme Wrong, then?
Because of an oft overlooked fact. Let's go back to the Catechism, paragraph 1860,
Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.No one lacks full knowledge of the moral law. No one, including our pictured Eskimo. Everyone (this includes atheists) knows right from wrong. The Eskimo might be invincibly ignorant of his obligation to believe in Jesus Christ or to join the Catholic Church, but he is still liable for murder, theft, adultery, masturbation, greed, rape, etc. Any of those actions could still result in his eternal separation from God.
How Might a Priest Actually Answer this Question?
Thus we see the "priest's" answer in the Meme is one no priest would ever give. The conversation would more likely run,
Eskimo: If I did not know about God or sin, would I go to hell?
Priest: If you committed a mortal sin (and we all have), yes you would. But I have good news, Jesus Christ is Risen and He wants to forgive your sins!
Priest: To start, repent, believe in the Gospel, and be baptized.
Eskimo: What is preventing me from being baptized here? (cf. Acts 8:36)
Priest: All the water's frozen!
Alright, maybe not as funny as the original, but more accurate.
What Did Vatican 2 Have to Say About Salvation?
All of this is summed up nicely by Vatican 2. The Council Fathers remind us that all non-Christians are not automatically damned, especially those who are outside the Church through no fault of their own. They must still cooperate with the grace of God, however, as we learn in Lumen Gentium 16,
...those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.... Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience....How frequently those who have not yet received the Gospel actually pull this, is another matter, one which the Council isn't so optimistic on,
...often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair.The solution is simple,
Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.In other words, everyone has a better chance making it through the flood of sin and inequity that resulted from the first sin inside the Ark (i.e. the Catholic Church) than they do outside of it. Might some make it through on a piece of driftwood that has fallen off the Ark? Maybe. But your best chance is being nice and dry on the Ark.
|Get thee into the Ark!|
So go out there and spread the Good News! Give your neighbors, colleagues, family members, and friends the best chance of making it through unto life eternal.