Sunday, March 4, 2012
Social Sin and Social Evil
If there’s a silence about sin today, perhaps it’s the silence that comes from the awesome realization that evil is larger than we thought or touches us more deeply than we ever expected. More and more, the suspicion grows that we are implicated in society’s evil and injustices.
Social sin describes human-made structures when they offend human dignity by causing people to suffer oppression, exploitation or marginalization. These include educational systems, housing policies, tax structures, immigration policies, health-care systems, employment policies, a market economy.
Once established, social structures and customs seem to take on a life of their own. The social sin of racism, for example, has continued and still continues long after slavery was abolished.When we become aware of structural evils, we should not be paraylzed by the guilt of self-condemnation, but move to conversion.
Conversion from social sin involves, at one level, changing our own lifestyle in ways that will help reform society. We cannot do everything to end the structures which support sexism, for example, but we can do some things; for instance, curbing the use of exclusive and insensitve language.
Patterns of evil can be instituitionalized. Injustice, for example, can become part of a group’s way of life, embedded in laws and social customs. Such patterns, in a ripple effect, contaminate the attitudes and actions of people in that environment. The influence of these patterns can be so subtle that people enmeshed in them may literally be unaware of the evil they promote.
The mystery of the original sin has a social dimension, and cooperation in evil patterns deepens the presence of evil in the world. It contributes to human suffering.
To go along with institutional evil makes a person ‘part of the problem’ – an active descendant of the Old Man , Adam. To resist or confront social evil makes you ‘ part of the answer’ – a person alive with the life won for us by the New Man, Jesus Christ.