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For those of you pure of heart and mind, or those who have a hard time with innuendos, "sins of the flesh" means sex. So we're about to hear about a lot of sex in this chapter/book. Buckle up.
But, Augustine says, he's not telling these tales to be titillating. He's mimicking a Harlequin romance novel so he can love God better for having confessed.
Augustine is one horny teenager. When he is sixteen, he discovers sex and masturbation, or, as he likes to call it, "the broiling sea of my fornication." Wow. Just wow.
He makes it sound like he was obsessed with sex. He wishes that his parents could have stopped all his super sex-sinning by making him marry. That way, he would have been using sex only for the purpose that God intended, which is to procreate. But dude's parents don't seem to mind his sexcapades so long as he does well in school. We're guessing this is how most people feel about their children joining fraternities and sororities.
Augustine's dad wants to send his son to school in Carthage. At the time, Carthage was the big city in North Africa where all the cool people went. But Augustine's dad isn't the richest man around, so he takes Augustine out of school for a while when he is sixteen, in hopes of saving some money.
We think this seems like a nice gesture on his father's part, but Augustine says that his dad cared more about having an articulate son than he cared about his son's soul.
Anyway, Augustine is pretty restless at home. And being restless just makes him hornier. He describes one really awkward scene at the public baths where his dad noted his erection, and instead of freaking out about it, his dad got excited at the prospect of having grandchildren.
Because erect penises + something women have or do = babies. As if that's not gross or embarrassing enough, he then tells Augustine's mom about about the whole deal. Thanks, Dad.
Augustine's mom doesn't react like his dad, though. She gets upset and tells Augustine not to go stealing anybody's wife. Which I guess is the natural thing to be worried about when your teen son gets an erection in the 4th century? But teenage Augustine doesn't take her advice seriously.
In fact, he and his friends are so into bragging about whom they've slept with that Augustine even makes up some depraved deeds, just so he won't seem like a loser. Sound familiar? (By the way, when Augustine talks about the streets of Babylon, he's being metaphorical, not literal.)
Even though Augustine generally thinks that his mom is pretty great, he's disappointed that she didn't try to prevent his fornicating as earnestly as she should have. She was worried that if Augustine got married too early, his career would be stunted. So Augustine had free reign to do all the wicked things he pleased. Party on.
Augustine got a thrill out of stealing, not because he wanted the stuff he stole, but because liked the adrenaline rush.
So this one time, he and the boys took a bunch of pears from a tree that was by his vineyard. And, get this: they didn't even want the pears. They just threw them to the pigs.
Augustine questions why being bad feels so good.
People like to have nice things, even if they can't. Life, says Augustine, is full of these nice, shiny possessions. But this stuff is "of the lowest order of good," because it distracts us from God, who is the nicest of nice things.
Augustine cites the example of how when people commit crimes, like murder, it is always for some reason related to gaining or keeping status. (In case you were wondering, Catiline was a Roman senator known for trying to overthrow the Republic).
Looks like all those rhetoric lessons are paying off: Augustine lists out all the possible reasons why people might sin—pride, cruelty, lust, inquisitiveness, sloth, etc.—and shows that none of these things are really necessary if you recognize that God owns all of them. Wait, huh?
Augustine is saying that all of these sins are driven by the desire to get something. Like fame, for example. But only when we embrace God, can nothing be taken away from us.
So sins exist because people are just trying to copy God. But they do a really bad job of it.
Not only is God to be thanked for forgiving Augustine of the sins he did commit, but also for the ones he didn't as a result of finding God.
Augustine compares his sins to a disease that God the Doctor cured. He then says that even though you haven't suffered from every disease in the world, you still thank the doctor for keeping you healthy. So, when in doubt: thank God.
Augustine is really puzzling over these pears. He reasons that it wasn't the pears he liked stealing so much as it was the camaraderie with his friends-in-theft.
More on the group mentality of what it felt like to steal stuff with his friends.
Augustine doesn't know where to begin "unravel[ing] this twisted tangle of knots," but hey, the man who loves God "shall find his own best way of life." Too bad that this doesn't describe Augustine just yet; he's got some more sinnin' left to do.