Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What is Sin?

18h century parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer
“More sinned against than sinner, “ goes the old expression, but what is sin and what the relationship of the sinner to the sinned? In some ways it sounds a little like the phenomenological notion of intention. The subjective individual can have intention to the object, but inanimate objects have no intention and express no volition. “An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law, “ is how sin is defined by the on-line dictionary, but you don’t sin against the self-same table or chair and a table or a chair certainly can't be guilty of any sins. You don’t sin against objects and objects cannot sin against you. You sin against people who possess their own intentions and in so doing are sinning against God, if you happen to believe in one. Thus my intention is to live, but when you decide to kill me, you eradicate my ability to fulfill my goal. The same is true of the biblical injunction about coveting they neighbor’s wife. The neighbor wants to be married and enjoy the company of his wife, but you get in the way of that when you covet and then have the wherewithal to actually commit adultery. “More sinned against than sinner” thus conveys the nuance of two bodies in motion, two individuals who have equal and opposite intentions, one of which is sinful and the other of which may contain sinful elements, but is in the end less sinful. The married man may be guilty of the sin of lust, yet the neighbor who commits adultery with that man’s wife may be deemed even more sinful to the extent that he moves from an idea to an action. Still there's something ambiguous about all of this. After their fall from grace, Adam and Eve, by definition, lived in a state of sin, since they had lost their innocence. Adam and Eve represent mankind as we know it, filled with sin and hiding their nakedness because of their sense of shame. But to quote Orwell in Animal Farm “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Individual men may seek to prove the notion that they have found grace a la the Protestant ethic that Max Weber talks about. Yet there are no absolutes. It depends from what point of view you are looking and with what intention, when you set out to reach a verdict. Sin is more consonant with relativity theory than Newtonian physics considering its more rigid view of space and time. Jurors are perpetually faced with these kinds of situations. A crime or sin may have been committed, but the person against whom the action took place may have been sinning themselves, as in the case of the wife who in a moment of rage kills her abusive husband. In cases like this jurors must adjudicate who is the sinner and who the one sinned against when the facts are open to differing interpretations.

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