Friday 30 January 2015

I believe in universal sin

In recent months I've been pondering sin and evil.  Belief in sin and evil seems to be something that's largely lacking in the dominant worldview of my society. Here's the example that set me thinking.

Some months ago a scandal emerged in the New Zealand media: teenage boys had been getting underage girls drunk, having sex with them and posting photos and bragging messages about it online.  All the voices I heard responding to this in the media were unanimous in seeing this behaviour as a bad thing.  They were also unanimous in their solution: education.  If the boys had been taught differently (about consent and about the effect of their actions on the girls concerned) then they wouldn't have done it.  Their actions weren't really seen so much wrong (i.e. sinful) as mistaken.  They could be fixed by knowledge rather than requiring a deep and fundamental change.

But is that really the case?

Maybe.  Maybe it hadn't occurred to the boys concerned that the girls didn't like what was going on: maybe they assumed it was as fun for the girls as it was for them.  In that case, education would definitely solve the problem.

But maybe not.  Maybe they were taking their pleasure and didn't care how it affected other people.  Maybe they knew that it hurt the girls but it was too important to them to have good 'street cred' for them to allow that to change their actions.  Or maybe they actually enjoyed hurting and humiliating the girls.

In those cases, education could still be helpful (by teaching the boys that what they were doing was socially unacceptable and would incur social sanction), but it wouldn't get at root causes.  They might stop raping their peers, but they'd still take pleasure in other ways where they were indifferent to (or even enjoyed) the harm caused.

Why do I say that?  Because I see it in my own heart.  I definitely do things that I enjoy without thinking about the consequences they have on others; I do things to make myself look good at others' expense; I even sometimes do things deliberately to hurt others.  Like these boys, I'm deeply tainted by sin.

The worldview held by almost everyone who comments in our media is deeply secular.  It has no category for sin.  The response for every ill - from people raising dogs that bite people, to people breaking the speed limit, to rape - is education.

This is harmful.  It means that our society can't address the root causes of behaviour such as that I've described: the best it can do is maybe redirect or temper sinful urges within its members through education.

And yet, the dominant worldview in our society does believe in evil: it just doesn't see it as universal.  Those who sexually abuse children, for example, are frequently labelled as evil.  And here we see another harmful consequence of our society not believing in universal sin.  Because we don't see evil as something that is within us all, when someone crosses that line they are ostracised.  They are sinful and evil but we are not: we have nothing in common with them so do not see them as worthy of empathy or even (sometimes) of human dignity.

This worldview affects education itself, too.  I notice this especially in the advice I see given to parents.  Take this, for example, that I saw a while back on Facebook:

I'm OK with the first and last statements on the 'connecting words' side but not with "I know you wanted to be responsible.  Sometimes things get in our way."  That's OK if you actually know that your kid wanted to be responsible but something got in their way, but I don't think it's a very good general assumption.  On a daily basis I do things because I'm selfish or lazy or proud: I expect all kids do the same.

What would I prefer?  An acknowledgement that we are all sinful: that evil is in all of us and that all of us do things that harm others not only out of ignorance but also because we want to.  That would hopefully lead to better responses to situations like the one I started with, and also help with both more realistic day to day parenting and less 'othering' of those who commit crimes we find particularly abhorrent.

That's probably the best I can hope for in a secular context, but of course that's not a real solution.  The real solution is relationship with Jesus.  Because, while I do still act out of my sinful nature, gradually over time I see ways that I'm doing that less.  As I allow the Holy Spirit into more of my life, He illuminates more of the evil in me; and as I repent and ask Him to change me, He does.  There's ever-so-far to go, but gradually that evil is being rooted out, rather than simply managed.  And one day, it will all be gone and I will be who I was created to be :-)

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