The term “Sin Eater” refers to an old world occupation where an individual would sit on or at a grave site and have a meal with the recently dead. Through this ritual act, the person would take on all the sins of the departed. This usually would be done if the departed died before last rites or other forms of ritual sin cleansing could be performed, and the sin eater would take on those sins so the loved one could enter heaven. In many ways this was a beautiful solution to an existential religious anxiety about the powerlessness felt against the fear of dying unexpected and without preparation. The dead, now powerless to repent their own sins, had someone who could repent for them. It was a role taken on that reflected the self-sacrifice made by Jesus from the Christian religion the Sin Eaters spawned from: your sin is too oppressive, so I will serve you by taking it on and having it forgiven for you.
When I talk about a “Dark Sin Eater,” I am referring to a phenomenon that has emerged over the years that serves as a corruption of this role. The Dark Sin Eater does not serve the dead, does not provide the relief for the dearly departed, but rather targets the living. Those that call upon the Dark Sin Eater are not incapable of repenting their sins, as is the dilemma for the dead, they just don’t want to. They love their sins, but want to avoid the consequences of sinning. They want to sin, but they also want to be seen as being sinless. The Dark Sin Eater does this not by taking away your sins in a Christ-like sacrifice, but rather by taking away your responsibility for them. but in that dark absolution comes the hidden cost, for when you hand over your responsibility, you also hand over your power and freedom. The deal is simple: Sin all you want, I will let you feel good about it, and in return, I get to rule you.
Where does this sin come from?
In order for any society to function, people have to abide by certain restrictions. We can’t just take what we want when we want it, we just can’t attack people because we have the urge to, etc. We have these restrictions because without them, society will fall to chaos. The urges to attack others, whether fueled by fear or just the drug like high of aggression, and the urges to take what we want have to be restrained.
Because of this, many of us learn to restrain ourselves. The whole process of growing up and maturing occurs as we learn to accept we have to work for things, that we can’t have everything we want, that we have to grow past fears, and that we have to reject the drug like reward for being aggressive. Empathy helps us along with this task, but it still involves a lot of frustration as we get torn between the shame of hurting others and the childlike desire for impulse indulgence. The overall reward for going through this process is a stable society that cares for us as we care for it.
However, not everyone follows this path. Fear can be overwhelming, the urge for that drug like hit from aggression can be too tempting, or we just feel too entitled. When this happens, society steps in to correct. Sometimes, it does so through official sanctions, such as through applying fines and jail time. However, the most common way society corrects is through the application of shame and stigma. We know we cannot survive outside of society, and to be separated from others is far more frightening than most other fears we have. In short, when we do something we want to but society tells us “NO!”, we feel shame. We feel bad. We have sinned. But we can be absolved by changing and growing up with the rest of society.
People, however, still want to indulge these immature urges. They want to find a way to make the theft, aggressions, and fearful lashing out acceptable. They try very hard to define the sins as sinless, often by finding ways to “other” people, defining the target as separate and therefore “less than”. This technique has often worked, as seen in the rampant prejudice and victim blaming that has plagued humanity over the past centuries. But as society continues to grow up, the newly emerging mature sensibilities are allowing this to occur less and less. Many have openly embraced the abandonment of this prejudice and victim blaming. Others are begrudgingly accepting the evolution of these sensibilities. Still others, sadly, are fighting it tooth and nail.
And this is where Donald Trump gets his appeal.
From the start of his campaign, Donald has been walking the path of the Dark Sin Eater. Whether through speeches glorifying violence against protesters, making stochastic threats against Hillary, claiming he was powerful enough to shoot people without repercussion, or othering minority groups like Muslims and Mexicans, Donald’s speeches flaunt a disdain for societal rules against violence, nullifying its sinfulness among his supporters. And when you hear his supporters speak, they don’t talk about his economic plans or policy points, they support him because “he says what he thinks,” praising him for telling them what they want to hear so that they don’t have to feel shamed for their fearful or aggressive urges. His method of gaining support frighteningly invokes a process similar to how racist groups will manipulate people into supporting them. Where society has been trying to tell them that threats and violence are wrong, he has been telling them that if he were to be put into office, they could indulge guilt free. His whole appeal is based in this absolution of the horrific.
So at each of the debates, stop and ask what vision of America Trump is building. Does he present real steps for a stable country and world? Does he have an outline on how to make more society just and fair? Does he have any real policy details that he puts out? Or does he just speak to indulgence of emotional urges? Does he tell you about scary minorities and how he will ruthlessly attack them and punish them for you to help you feel safe again? Does he just attack and attack, pushing the idea that truth comes from violence and aggression? Does he argue point by point, respecting the rules of the debate, like a mature citizen and leader? Does he childishly cut people off, shout over them, and focus on appealing to emotion and making personal attacks? Is he acting as the Leader who will help America continue to grow and mature, or is he acting as the Dark Sin Eater, telling America he will let you do what you want guilt free if you just let him rule you?