Let’s Talk About Sin
by Anthony Egan SJ
Let’s talk about sin, the structures of sin that exist – and in which and through which personal sin exists.
Sin is the failure to love, the failure to care about the other (neighbour and, for religious people, God). Sin manifests in a context – and a sinful context creates and perpetuates sin in ourselves. Unjust economic policies, tyrannical government, contempt for the constitution and law, disregard of the environment, exploitation of peoples and lack of respect for life – these are the mentalities that create an atmosphere of sin. Just as they do in polluted atmospheres (ecological sin), people generally adapt to this spiritual smog. All too often they also contribute to further pollution – and in doing so they re- create and intensify the problem.
This is nowhere more apparent than in public life.
Behind every immoral politician who is allowed to continue unchallenged there is a party structure that tolerates his or her behaviour. Behind every party there is a false ideology that forms that politician’s attitude that s/he has a right to use power for personal gain, and is itself formed and deformed by first tolerating and then collectively endorsing immoral individuals within its ranks. This two-way mutual influence changes the nature of the party itself, redefines it, and can have a powerful influence on how history determines its legacy.
In turn this structural sin embodied in individual politicians and in a party’s mentality – particularly if it is a ruling party – has a morally corrosive effect on everyone in society. If our leaders are corrupt, use their public offices for personal gain, are contemptuous of law and constitution, treat people as objects to be used and discarded, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I use my job, however humble, to exploit others and gain personal advantage – after all, our leaders do? If leaders break the law and get away with it, why shouldn’t I? And since they treat us as objects – vote-fodder to be promised a better life at election times and then cast aside – why shouldn’t I treat my fellow citizens, particularly those weaker than me, as disposable goods?
The problem is that as we conform ourselves to the pervasive moral environment we also re-create and intensify that atmosphere, that culture. We make Hell in our own image and likeness. That is why many of us are angry and disgusted by the behaviour of President Jacob Zuma and the ANC. To many he and his cronies have corrupted a once-great political movement – and by doing nothing the movement has allowed itself to be corrupted.
This is not to say that the ANC was once perfect but now fallen. Its history is chequered – like all organisations and institutions (including the Church). But somehow today it has lost its earlier sense of being a party semper reformanda. It has become part of a structure of sin that once it resisted so nobly. Like every one of us it needs conversion and repentance. But – like many of us – is it blind to its sin?
Picture source: Henry M. Morris