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Evil, sinfulness not always easy to measure

This is Part Two of my answer to a series of questions sent by a reader responding to my Dec. 4 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about Ginger White publicly divulging her affair with presidential hopeful Herman Cain (lvrj.com/living/reasons-for-coming-forward-don-t-always-make-sense-134985208.html).

I am not sure if I truly understand the nuances between evil, crime and sin that you wrote about. Would you please be so kind as to give me just one example of each underlined quote? I have supplied one suggested example for each of them.

“All evil includes sin, but not all sin is evil.” Would lying fit here? For example, lying is a sin, but lying to save somebody from harm is not evil.

Actually, not all lying is sin. I get arguments about this from folks, but I hold firmly to the idea that there is such a thing as a morally justifiable lie. I grant you, it’s a slippery slope. But there are occasions when the truth is both cruel and unnecessary. If you always tell the truth because “honesty is the best policy,” then your honesty is corrupt. The point being that the work of honesty is much more rigorous than mere truth telling.

Back to “Evil contains sin, but not all sin is evil” …

After I wrote Part One of this column, I found myself recalling a scene from the 1993 movie “Heaven and Earth,” a terrific Vietnam war film by Oliver Stone. The protagonist is Le Ly, a Vietnamese woman caught in the horror and poverty of war. In the scene in question, Le Ly is selling gum and trinkets at an American post. She is approached by a soldier, who points to two other M arines at a distance, leering at Le Ly. The first man says the two soldiers have finished their tour, are returning home today and are celebrating by offering Le Ly $100 for sex with them.

Le Ly’s answer is to return to them as invective the very verb they are soliciting.

The man returns to Le Ly with a new offer. $200. Le Ly spits her “no” at them. They offer $300. And Le Ly sighs. She looks down at her toddler son, sitting in the dirt, hungry, no shoes, dressed in rags. In utter defeat, she removes her tray of wares and trades sex for the means to feed her son.

Now, here some might charge Le Ly with sin. I, for one, understand her actions completely. For me, it’s more a sacrifice. Le Ly elects to be exploited as a strategy to survive. But, whatever your conclusion about Le Ly’s relative sinfulness, I see no such ambiguity in the horny soldiers. Here, I’d be willing to consider the word “evil.” The money in their pockets wields an overwhelming disproportion of power. They have zero empathy for what it “costs” a human being to humiliate herself in sexual exploitation. Were I standing there, I’d say something to the doofwad soldiers like, “Hey! Doofwads! That would be a human being standing there. If you’re truly grateful to have survived the jungles of Vietnam, then why don’t you just hand her the $300 as a humble symbol of your unmerited fortune?”

Willful, gleeful exploitation of human suffering is evil.

“Crime most often includes sin, but not all sin is criminal.” Would consensual sex between two single adults fit here? Their act is a sin because they are not married, but it is not a crime.

Yes. If indeed you have the worldview that premarital sex is, of itself, sinful, then this is an apt illustration. It’s astonishing, actually, how many sinful things aren’t criminal. For example, I think immediately of any number of sinful and even evil things a parent can do to a child that, while actively wicked, aren’t chargeable legal offenses.

“And, occasionally it’s a sin not to commit a crime.”

It’s a sin not to commit a crime when it would be sinful to obey an unjust law. Any student of American 1960s civil unrest knows this. Ask Rosa Parks. Or ask Gandhi.

Occasionally, couples or families come to therapy to attempt reconciliation. But sometimes, if that doesn’t work, I get a subpoena from one party’s lawyer insisting I surrender the case records in service to winning their case in court. And I defy the subpoena. I write the lawyer back and say, more politely than I’m saying now: “Hell, no. I won’t do it. Come and get me. I’ll go to jail before I’ll commit the sin of violating my pledge of confidentiality. It would be a sin not to commit this crime.”

So far, nobody’s come to get me.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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