Most everyone in line is quiet, just standing here, perhaps a little embarrassed. After all, we’re here to confess our sins, not to proudly boast of our latest successes. Standing in this line, I feel as though we’ve all been collectively sent to the principal’s office.
Hey, what did you do?
Threw a paper airplane at the teacher. What about you?
To be honest, I expected there to be more people here. Maybe there’s only a small crowd because of the difficult downtown location or because it’s the middle of the workday. Or maybe it’s because people are confessing their sins elsewhere. Like on the Internet. While researching confession, I found a number of Web sites that offer the ability for online confessionals.
The Florida-based and cleverly named ivescrewedup.com gets about a thousand hits a day, where confessions range from the somber — “I had an abortion and I am sorry, God, for not keeping that baby”–to the silly — “I have done enough drugs to make Keith Richards envious!!!!!” (sinner’s exclamation points, not mine). This site, which accepts anonymous confessions, is actually sponsored by a real church (although not a Catholic one). Mysecret.tv, another church-run site, boasts thousands of confessions and millions more who have logged on to read them. Another site, Dailyconfession.com, was launched by a former Disney executive.
These guilt-bearing Web sites shouldn’t surprise anyone. According to a recent Pew study, 82 million Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons. That’s more than the number of people who use the Net for online banking or even online dating. The popularity of GodTube.com, the evangelical equivalent of YouTube, is soaring. And it’s not only Christians who are hanging out at the nexus of divinity and the digital world. Muslims have news and information pages, and even comedy sites (check out allahmademefunny.com). In Judaism, we have tens of thousands of Web sites traversing our religious spectrum from blogs and social networks to educational and news sites. A bunch of sites offer practical ser vices such as having your emailed prayers tucked into the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. But, to my knowledge, no Jewish Web site offers online confessions. And that could be for one very simple reason — Judaism doesn’t have the same concept of confession as Christianity. At least not confessing to another human being. Sure, we confess to God. We do that a lot. In fact, three times a day Jews recite “Forgive us, our Father, for we have erred. … We have willfully sinned …” during our prayer ser vices. And on the High Holidays, seeking forgiveness is practically the entire liturgy. The Yom Kippur prayers alone list dozens of potential sins. Eventually they all jumble together and start to sound the same. Forgive me for gossiping. Forgive me for slandering. Forgive me for leering. Forgive me for watching Gossip Girl.
But these forced confessions are so rote and scripted, there’s no room for creativity or personalization. Where’s the scripted confession for journalists who turn in articles past their deadline? Where’s the one for watching too much reality TV? The one for actually enjoying the guilty pleasure that is MTV’s My Super Sweet 16?
At Sacred Heart, we may not be discussing with each other the many sins we committed, but the mere fact that we’re here speaks volumes. It says not only did we do something wrong, but we feel bad enough to take some time off from work, trek downtown, and tell some guy on the other side of a partition our most embarrassing sinful moments. We’ve got a conscience. Or at least the others do. I’m just here for anthropological reasons, studying Catholics in their natural habitat.
My Catholic friend Vince keeps telling me I should actually use this opportunity to confess something. I ask him if I can preemptively confess for conning a priest into believing he’s pardoning a fellow Catholic when, in fact, he’s absolving the son of a rabbi. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s probably not something the Son of God would approve of. Thinking about it, I actually begin to feel bad about my con job. That’s another thing Catholics and Jews have in common: guilt.
I should explain that I wanted to be honest with the priest, to tell him I’m a Jew who’s lost his way. After all, that’s what I had done at all the other churches I visited. The introductions were like those at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Hi, my name is Benyamin Cohen, and I’m a Jew. But Vince said I couldn’t do that here. Only Catholics were allowed in these booths, so if I wanted an authentic confession experience, I’d have to do it undercover. Pretend to be someone I’m not. Adopt the guise of a guy who grew up somewhere in New England, graduated from Notre Dame, and made contributions to Ted Kennedy’s many reelection campaigns.
I could do that.