We, as humans, are addicted to causality.
We desire to know how things linked.
What are the sociological implications behind the notion of “sin,” religious or otherwise? The claims that humans are intrinsically evil are highly problematic not solely do to the fact that the claim resides on a false-dichotomy. It only sees one-side of the story. It’s quite a depressing view of reality and human ontology. One simple claim arising from this would be that: humans can naturally not be trusted. Or that when left to our own devices, humans will always make evil decisions.
I think the first major issue that must be dealt with is the alignment of sin with evil.
Even the Hebrews, in their use of the word ‘chait‘ do not insinuate that humans are intrinsically evil.
This is where we miss the point when we attribute the same definitive criteria as if there is some natural gap between sin and evil waiting to be uncovered. I think this in and of itself is a complete misrecognition of the natural good inherent within humans. St. Thomas Aquinas, an early church father, once made the assertion that all humans are inherently good — that when left to our own abilities, because of the divine excess present within us, we will make good decisions. Of course, this begs the question: what do we mean when we say “good”? That in and of itself is a life-long hermeneutic. However, for the sake of brevity, let’s choose an isolated definition: an act or belief that seeks the common good of all. Aristotle referred to this as Eudamonia. Anthropologically, history is filled with record-after-record of humans being intrinsically communal. Look at the development of the monastic communities, most originators desired to be hermetic and yet ended up with a copious amount of followers.
This belief in sin is quite easily, a nihilistic one. Yes, then, I am making the claim that most religious people [not just Christians] who claim another practical dilemma is the insistence that sin is somehow tied to some form of ominous fate [some might also use the word ‘God’s Will’]. This necessitates that there will always be a reason for everything — that causality is a central component to our experiences. What if it is just the opposite, we fear that some things might have no explanation, so we create a reason for it? Is that also not another covert form of nihilism? Rather than dealing with the possibility that not all things occur for some divine purpose, it seems some would rather that everything mean something. Would this itself not be the most acute form of depression?
Sure, you might walk into a church, temple or a mosque and find “happy” people but what if the cliché is true? Appearance isn’t everything. Fate is simply another form of ideological empire. The demand that fate be real insures that as humans we will never have a future, or something even more sinister and primal: that a future does not exist. The very language of the apocalypse dies under the verdict of fate. How so? If something is fated it then it means there is already a past, present and future that pre-exists the event itself. If the future pre-exists itself in the form of an already predictable future then there really is no future at all, as an event, since it already has occurred. There is nothing to anticipate if it’s already been anticipated.
Another issue is the problem of exclusion. A simple sociology of the notion of sin is one where some can be relinquished of it if a special prayer is uttered. The prayer itself becomes a form of pre-requisite value, implying that those who don’t say this prayer end up being outside the circle of acceptance. There is an in-group and there is an out-group. Those that exclude need those that are excluded to be excluded to define them. So, rather than loving one’s enemies, this approach actually seeks to make enemies of fellow humans via a rite of superstitious requirement. So, the notion of sin isn’t a spiritual one at all — it is an idea loaded with power, domination, and marginalization. As a theological point it perverts the whole social order into an evil world to rid ourselves of, rather than attempt to make it a better place. Putting it bluntly, it makes lazy religious people justify their nihilism and inactivity who desire to be released from the hell of other humans, [as Sartre once similarly claimed].
Also, the attempt to find some form of transcendent ethic [a series of rules that all must live by] negates the fact that we live subjective lives, meaning, if we spend all of our time, energy and resources attempting to enforce some universal law upon the rest of humanity — we actually fetishize the law over humanity. Which is highly problematic because in doing so, we infer that not only are we judges over other humans, but also it signifies a break from the human experience all-together by trying to claim that there is only one method by which all of us experience life and the beauty of existence thereby assuming that the interpretations we hold should be the same for everyone. Isn’t this the problem with fascism and dictatorships? These things don’t care about humans, they choose the idea over humanity.
This is not to imply that evil does not exist. But to begin the discussion that evil does not exist apriori [humans are not born evil; Freud and Augustine were wrong] and also to claim that evil itself is not universal, but rather is constituted in a community. We would not know evil necessarily if we were the only one alive in the world — we would not need the definition, hence evil emerges in a communal setting [in this sense, the global human community]. But sin and evil are not the same, and we do unnecessary damage to each other by implicating them as one in the same.
This is part 1 of 3 of a series I am doing on the human condition: evil, sin and ethics. Follow along.
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