Sin and evil can grow uncomfortably close to those who are careless

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.

"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.

"And, occasionally it’s a sin not to commit a crime." Would murder to save a woman being raped fit here? It is a crime to murder the rapist, but it would be a sin not to aid the helpless woman. One is assuming here that all means less than murder would have been to no avail.

I thank you in advance for your clarification. — L.T., Las Vegas

This question is an example of when and why I delight in my readers. Ooh. Delicious. This is Part One of my answer:

All evil includes sin, but not all sin is evil.

I’m using the word "sin" here to mean an act considered sinful. A concession to instinct over nobility, which sooner or later conscripts self and other as a means to some end. Less than the best of ourselves. Petty, self-centered, dishonest, deceitful, hateful, selfish, small, envious, spiteful and any other of an array of ordinary human unloveliness.

I reserve the word "evil" for something very specific. That is, I try not to bandy the word casually about, lest it have less meaning for when I really need it.

Evil is distinguished from sin by proportion, the quid pro quo abuse of power and the categorical absence of empathy. That absent empathy does not have to be a conscious, felt intent. I suppose, for example, that some folks who make a living in human trafficking might consider themselves "offering an opportunity" to an impoverished, desperate third-world citizen. Many child sex predators understand themselves to be kindly disposed to the children upon whom they prey — gentle, loving and friendly. I’m saying one of the indicators we are given over to evil is precisely that, for the evildoer, the evil now makes sense, or is even interpreted as something good and charitable.

Human evil turns things upside down that way.

I recall my ethics professor, lecturing on the topic of human rights. He said that very few human rights are absolute. That is, there are extreme circumstances when it is ethical and necessary to surrender an individual right for some greater good. A classmate asked, "Dr. Allen, can you give me an example of an absolute human right?" My professor paused, mulled, pulled his glasses off to chew on the ends for a moment and said without irony, "I can’t immediately think of a circumstance in which a woman should be required to give up the right not to be raped."

Yeah. Rape is evil.

Anger, lust, greed and the like are not evil in themselves. They are human instincts. The caution, however, is that too often casually conceding to these instincts can and does invite evil. Sin can seduce us. Sociopaths notwithstanding, most ordinary people who fall into evil are later dumbfounded, shocked and surprised. They are being literal when they are led away in handcuffs muttering, "I didn’t mean to do that."

Example: Adultery is not evil. Selfish? Yes. Stupid? Dishonest? A betrayal? Ill-advised? Desperate? Cowardly? Counterproductive? Sordid? Self-defeating? Yes, yes and yes! All that and more! But not evil.

Yet, adultery — like any ordinary human sin left casually unattended — can become a womb for gestating unintended evil. Like when adulterous lovers begin to think murdering the superfluous spouse would make things more convenient. Or when the superfluous spouse completes suicide or uses a gun to render his/her editorial comment regarding the affair. Read the paper. It happens every day in America.

Adultery, unlike, say, sexual harassment, is a mutual encounter. Two competent adults say "yes" to it. It is therefore not, in itself, evil. Nor is it a crime, at least not in the United States. It is an ordinary and sadly not uncommon human brokenness.

Stay tuned next week for Part Two: crime, sin and morality.

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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