Neil Wills: Surfer's

October 2001
Secrets of the confessional
Previous surfings

Comment on this column IF YOU SIN AS CREATIVELY and as determinedly as I do (I once had a dream in which my sins were so vast and numerous that enormous trucks had to transport them to a series of purpose-built warehouses up and down the country), you'll know what it's like to have to take a week off work every few months in order to have time to confess them all. That's just the sins of commission, of course – sins of omission will have to wait until purgatory (although, granted, the intervening years of omitting to confess these sins only serves to add to them).

Up until now there have been three ways to show contrition: the classic "alone in a room with God" repentance, the "alone in a closet with God and a priest" routine and the extraordinarily unpopular, though biblically sanctioned, "confess your sins to one another" manoeuvre. Those of us who have made sinning-all-the-more-so-that-grace-may-abound into a lifestyle choice with its own glossy magazine and everything will be pleased to learn that there is now a Fourth Way.

PREMIER CHRISTIAN RADIO (London), that hitherto unsung hotbed of radical theology, has thought of a means by which we can make a clean breast of things in a manner befitting the Computer Age – call it an "alone in a room with God and Bill Gates" affair if you will.

The Confessor ( takes the penitent through a series of scriptures and notes on the significance of repentance and then leaves them to get on and bare their failings of thought, word and deed in silent prayer or a bold, stark typeface. It doesn't warn the user about the eternal consequences of typos, but this is probably to ensure that God is kept amused while folk are busy dishing the dirt on themselves.

Once I had reassured myself that whatever I entered would not be automatically forwarded to my mother – apparently the slate is wiped clean without ever troubling cyberspace – I pondered on where to start my list of trespasses (a word I have always felt was rather inadequate in that it makes even your most dastardly deeds seem like minor misdemeanours – I mean, you can't even be prosecuted for trespass in Britain unless it is aggravated or constitutes "trespass with intent to blaspheme in front of the Monarch" or some such).

Daunted by the magnitude of the task, I decided to condense my manifold transgressions into a heartfelt "Sorry for being so ruvvish." I'm not sure when I last capitulated to the temptation to ruvv, but I feel a lot better now that it's out in the open.

THANKFULLY, ON THE same page there is an excellent set confession which helps the sinner to gauge the lengths by which he or she has fallen short. I particularly relished, in a squirming sort of way, the opportunity to own up to "the sins that do not bother me because I have got used to them" as well as acknowledging that "I have hidden from life behind habit, activity and entertainmentsÉ Routine has been my ally and honesty my dread."

There remains one major stumbling block once you have overcome your natural reluctance to open yourself up to the pain inherent in a really thorough admission of guilt, and it consists in our ability as humans to confuse the Creator and the created. It would be remarkably easy to fall into the trap of confessing all to your computer rather than to God. After all, it seems less reprehensible to sin against the great iMac than against the great I Am.

On the other hand, it would be quite understandable if you started using your computer as a high priest, an intermediary between yourself and God to shield you from his wrath.

That aside, anything that swims against the cultural tide and promotes repentance should be welcomed. I shall certainly be visiting again very shortly – the dream about my sins travelling up the motorways of the land fitted the purposes of this column beautifully but was a terrible, shocking lie. It's true – I really am ruvvish.

This column first appeared in Third Way magazine. © Third Way 2001

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