Monday, July 24, 2017

Sin

A friend sent me this personal anecdote after both the Grenfell fire in London and the fire in Waikiki:
I was once asleep on the 22nd floor of a Marriott in Cambridge, Mass. when the fire alarm went off. I could smell smoke. It turned out to be a minor fire, and I was able to get back into my room after a few hours. But ever since, when I enter a tall building, I look for sprinklers. They aren’t foolproof but they’re certainly better than nothing.
People who check into a hotel or move into a high rise trust the contractors, cognizant government approval authorities, and others have all honestly collaborated to construct a safe building, something that obviously failed to happen in London but may have been true in Waikiki. Standards should improve over time and retrofitting is often expensive, but the responsible parties should still make a good faith effort to keep the building safe. People who do not believe in human sin should consider the Grenfell fire as a case study in greed triumphing over concern for one’s neighbor.
The word “sin” is out of favor in many intellectual circles. For example, some evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins describe human selfishness in terms of genetic dynamics that program humans to act in an individual’s perceived self-interest (cf. Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene).
Others, including some theologians and evolutionary biologists, believe that biological dynamics include not only selfishness as usually understood but also reciprocal altruism, a form of selfishness that presumes self-interest is sometimes maximized by actions whose immediate benefit is for others, not self. The work of Frans de Waal, an evolutionary primate biologist, supports the concept of reciprocal altruism (cf. my Ethical Musings’ posts Metaethics - part 2 and Loving and being loved).
Sometimes people apparently act in good faith and bad things still result, as with the deaths, injuries, and other harms caused by the apartment building fire in Waikiki. Other times, bad things happen because of what theologians of many different faiths call “sin,” i.e., persons acting selfishly discounting or disregarding potential harms to others and to creation.
Forgiveness is not the remedy to sin. Sin’s remedy is described by words such as reformation, transformation, healing, and so forth – all words that denote an individual more fully balancing self-interest with the well-being of others.
The daily news is full of reports that demonstrate a widespread need for this type of change: stories about “America first,” tax proposals that favor the wealthy over the poor, health insurance proposals that seek to balance the budget by reducing the access of a society’s most vulnerable to healthcare, etc.

Christians believe that Jesus is the remedy for our sin because he exemplifies the triumph of love (reciprocal altruism) over sin and evil. May we, like Jesus, recognize the reality of sin, dare to stand up to evil, and thereby experience the life abundant that only love makes possible.

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