Interesting Juxtaposition

Just recently now in my circle of blogging acquaintances we’ve had two very different views on sin. The first is from bls; the second from D.C.

I can sympathize with DC. Modern scientific knowledge has improved. We realize that some behavioral problems are rooted in physical–chemical–causes. At the same time, I think that the logic of empirical materialism threatens to medicalize–and prescribe away–most everything. I wonder what the consequences of this are. I have alcoholism in my family. Religious people then would have said that my grandfathers were in “sin”; medical professionals today would say that they had a “disease”. Since we know that alcoholism is a disease, does it mitigate their behavior–or their actions when they were drinking?

To what extent are our medical conditions beyond our control, and therefore our volition which is one of the ways that I understand sin? At what point does medicalization of non-standard/deviant behavior become problematic? All over the papers last week was the death of a little girl who was terribly abused. Was her stepfather “mentally ill”? And if so–what does that say (or not say) about his moral state? Is he not responsible for his actions because of his medical condition?

This is the scientific version of the bondage of the will, isn’t it?

At the end of the day I come down with bls. While I know that medical conditions exist and effect our behavior, I can’t move beyond the fact that sin–real honest to goodness non-Vegas-poster-advertisment sin–is a reality in our world. As I’ve mentioned before, my most up close and personal experience of the true reality of evil was a lengthy pastoral visit in jail with an young man charged with attempted child molestation. I came away from that visit with a profound notion of the reality of evil and with the conviction that part of the Gospel is actively resisting real and living active evil. I’m convinced that sin and evil are realities. Because of these realities, we must build our communities and our liturgies in the face of it. Liturgy becomes far more serious to me when it is done knowing that we do it in the face of the reality of death and in the face of the reality of evil (two *different* things imo). This is where proclamation of Gospel and administration of the Sacraments really hits the road.

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3 Responses to Interesting Juxtaposition

  1. bls says:

    I find that people seem to mix up the ideas of “responsible” and “accountable” quite often in these discussions. For instance, in the case of alcoholism. An alcoholic may have a genetic predisposition to the condition – but is still accountable for what she does. If she commits a crime while under the influence, she goes to jail; she doesn’t escape accountability.

    In any case, is it really hard to look around at the world and deduce there’s something incomplete – something problematic – about human nature? I mean, look at the history of the United States. We, a country supposedly founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” – we spent over 200 years as a slaveholding nation! Women were treated as property for most of human history. Gay people have been marginalized and murdered for nothing more than desiring to love another human being.

    Millions upon millions of people died during the last century at the hands of other people and of their own governments. It was by far the bloodiest hundred years ever in human history. European Jewry was wiped out almost entirely.

    It seems impossible not to recognize sin.

  2. bls says:

    (Anyway, I don’t see what the percentage is in labeling it in some other way; it’s still the same concept, isn’t it? “The wrongs that people do to one another and to themselves”? Why would it matter whether you label it “sin” or “genetic defects”?

    Doesn’t it come to the same thing in the end? There’s an A.A. pamphlet that talks about this, in fact. The writer asks, rhetorically, “So why the need for confession and absolution [i.e., the 4th and 5th Steps], if we claim that alcoholism is a disease?” And answers it by saying: “Well, the alcoholic still feels guilty, and has need of confession and absolution.”

    So what’s the difference if you call it “sin” or “bad actions that hurt other people, stemming from genetic causes”? Isn’t it the same thing, in the end: human beings acting poorly, because they’re unable to do better?)

  3. Annie says:

    Derek,
    My answer became too long so I moved it to my blog. In short: I believe that evil is in direct opposition to God; that it is not necessarily the source of sin but can cause sin but is not the only cause of sin; that it is not a source of illness except in cases that are clearly demonic (victim and others are aware of it); that confusion about evil being the cause of sin are the miracles in the Gospels, but think of the man whose blindness was created so Jesus could heal him–Jesus denied it as being caused by sin. I had been researching evil for some time, if you will, and consolidated some of my understanding today.

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