The majority of ‘sins’ – in life if not in art – are small and boring. Take Rufus Wainwright’s Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, which gives this piece its subtitles: an anthem for those reconciling what we should do with what we want to. As we move into an increasingly secular society, those shoulds will be more personally than culturally defined – but even the staunchest atheist is kidding themselves if they claim access to a morality uninflected by religion.
In the West, religious history is overwhelmingly Christian. As such, kissing someone you shouldn’t, sleeping later than you wanted to, getting angrier than you’d intended, are still things we recognise as less-than-ideal – even if most of us wouldn’t label them ‘lust’, ‘sloth’ or ‘wrath’ per-se.
Certainly, one could argue that the story of Christianity is the story of sin – from original sin in the garden of Eden, to the Immaculate (sinless) Conception or Jesus dying for our absolution, the church is obsessed with our erroneous impulses. Where do they come from? And what should we do about them?
From singer-songwriters to cornershop managers, we remain aware of the moral status of our desires and deeds hundreds of years after religion’s Renaissance apex. Call it a belief-hangover; some of the knees-up’s best and brightest are gathered in the National Gallery’s aptly named and newly opened exhibition Sin.