a big bunch of bunkum


Sin. It’s the only battle you can win by surrendering.

I’ve been really bothered recently by the notions of sin, obedience and morality. And I’ve realised why – the three of them are a big bunch of intertwined bunkum!

Given a reasonable start in life, the overwhelming majority of humans will have a desire for a peaceful life for themselves and those around them. Call this the ‘good’ impulse if you will. Unfortunately, for various reasons many people are given confusing models or unpleasant starts to their lives and moving from this unnatural start (not being cared for is evolutionarily unnatural) the ‘good’ impulse can be more challenging, although not elusive.

So, my problem with ‘morality’. It does not exist as generally understood. Humans make decisions based on probability and evidence. Sometimes we choose to ignore pertinent pieces of evidence and it can be argued we make less intelligent choices. A simplistic example would be someone with a weight problem facing a delicious cake. They know it is probable it tastes delicious and they’ll enjoy eating it; they also know that once they have one slice they may be likely to crave more; and they know that eating lots of cake is ultimately detrimental to their health. These, and many more considerations, are weighed up in the blink of an eye, and an instant decision is made. No decision is innately ‘wrong’ but some decisions are questionable in terms of choosing, for instance, instant gratification over more serious long term consequences.  Common sense is key in the decision making process.

Moving on to ‘sin’. There is a Catholic Cardinal, many of you will be aware, who has vehemently preached against homosexuality throughout his career, and who has recently been accused by four priests of coercing homosexual acts. I’m going to assume he’s guilty for the purposes of analysing the effects of the notions of sin, obedience and morality. My understanding of Catholicism, and indeed most versions of Christianity, is that they believe humans are born innately bad, but with divinely inspired understanding of ‘morality’, as laid out in a series of rules in the Bible that are to be obeyed. So, taking our Cardinal, he clearly has homosexual urges, which he believes are sinful but he also believes being sinful is natural. Part of him wants to follow the rules in the Bible but part of him is craving basic sexual gratification. Knowing he is ‘bad’ and perhaps believing a Satan type figure is trying to trick him into being ‘bad’ gives lots of leeway to be, well, ‘bad’. All the ‘amazing’ heroes to be emulated in the Bible give way to ‘sin’ at some point – so it must be natural, mustn’t it?

Now let’s imagine the cardinal follows what I’ve suggested is the actual natural order of things. He has homosexual urges and he has no rulebook telling him this is wrong. He also sees no evidence that a natural urge like this can lead to harm, so he has no reason to oppose the urge. He sees a man he is attracted to and he weighs up some of the potential consequences his actions could lead to. He could attempt to coerce the man into a sexual act using his powerful position to do so or he could attempt some form of flirtation to establish if the other man is interested. Even if he were a rare case who completely lacked empathy, and he couldn’t understand how unpleasant the abuse of power is, in terms of gratification, he is likely to realise that a consensual relationship is more satisfying than a coerced one.  The weight of logic in terms of the consequences of his act are much more likely to lead him to seek a fully consensual relationship.

For people who were unluckily enough to robbed of the tools to make logical or empathetic decisions, laws are there to make the obvious signposts to the current accepted norm. They help to clarify more confusing scenarios, and they usually represent the majority view, based on logic and an analysis of the consequences of particular behaviours.  Laws change, because our understanding of the reasons why the rules were there in the first place have changed, and the consequences of the actions that led to the laws are no longer applicable.  People don’t need to obey rules, they need to understand why rules are there and choose to follow them.

A quick recap for those who dozed off – we need to give people the respect we deserve:

  • The notion of ‘morality’ undermines the importance of well-considered, logical decision making.
  • The notion of ‘sin’ gives the people an excuse to make poor decisions.
  • The notion of ‘obedience’ reduces people to mindless robots following random instructions.