Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is Evil Learned Behavior or Does Sin Nature Simply Compel Us To Sin?

The message of Christianity is deeply dependant on the doctrine of sin nature and or the story of original sin. It is because of this that I have always found it a little troubling that sin or evil seems on the surface to be strongly correlated with intelligence.

For example, who sins more (by all practical and observable means): a man with a severe mental handicap or ... a doctor? Consider how if you treat a dog unfairly, it will still love you… yet if you treat your co-worker unfairly he will quickly and without hesitation nurse a grudge against you and develop a bitter hatred for you. Who is more full of guile, an 8 year old cub scout or a trial lawyer? So what is the difference here?

Why is a retarded person at least perceived as having more innocence than someone with a healthy mind? Aren’t they both exposed to the same original sin according to Christian theology? Why are young children more innocent minded than their elders who should by now know better? In short, why are the simple less sinful than the crafty?

These types of questions have always been troublesome for me. A friend once suggested that it was because evil is learned behavior. That really got my gears turning. Is it true? If so, how much better to be born an idiot!

This type of theory certainly helps to partially explain various phenomena of life such as the fact that a person brought up unexposed to certain evils will be immeasurably less likely to commit those evils than another who was exposed.

Anyway I’m gonna cop out now and just say I don’t really have good answers for these questions.. Just food for thought…


NotMyOpinion30 said...

Hi Tim,

I typically don't like writing my thoughts without having authentic Church teachings to back me up. I will go back later and see if I can find anything about it.

However, I either read or heard something from the Church (maybe a homily I watched on EWTN) that pertains to this. I will get to that later.

The Church teaches that we have inherited the stain of Original Sin from Adam. However, I believe that the Church teaches that there is a certain "age of reason", at which point a child is fully aware of personal sin (their conscience is developed) and becomes responsible for the choices they make. I'm not sure what age that is... that is something we have to look up.

I personally agree that those who are more intelligent are more easily tempted into sin, especially pride, vanity, and self-love, than those who are more "simple". However, that doesn't mean that simple people aren't susceptible to pride. We are all naturally inclined to sin and we cannot escape that fact, not by our human nature, but by our inherited fallen state. True humanity is perfect; Our Lord was true Man and true God. He was perfect as true Man and exemplified true humanity, a state Adam had before the Fall and the state that awaits us if, by the Lord's mercy, we are accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The acceptance of grace is what protects us from our inclination to sin. The Scriptures mention that not everyone has the same amount of grace (I will find this later when I have some more time). So two people who are equally intelligent may not lead equally pure lives. Both are inclined to sin as it is inescapable while they are on this Earth. The type of lives they lead is dependent on many things, namely their response to God's grace. But ultimately, I believe that the amount of grace the Lord gives individuals is a mystery and we should rejoice when one of our brothers or sisters bears their cross admirably.

What I either read recently or heard on EWTN was in relation to the Mass readings for last Sunday, where Our Lord embraces, lays his hands on, and blesses the children against the will of His disciples. Children, and those who think simply like children, are not concerned with gold, fancy cars, bank accounts, big houses, fame, or the glory of man. Because of this the message of love, loyalty, obedience (though some would argue this point), and humility are virtues that are more easily attained through Faith by God's grace. Children and the simple minded are more likely to have a pure belief than the more intelligent, who often struggle internally with their thoughts and temptations always coming forth through pride.

I don't know if that even covers your topic. I may have strayed a bit, but I didn't really have much time to post this!

NotMyOpinion30 said...

One more thing I forgot to discuss... whether or not the act of sin is learned behavior. I actually see where there were two parts to your question. I'm curious to know if the first post I added answered the first part or came close to it. I hope that the Holy Spirit will aid me in this next answer and that I don't mistakingly stray from the Church's teaching. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

We are predisposed to sin due to our fallen nature. Whenever we are surrounded by iniquity we increase the chance that we will fall to it. Virtue is attained by grace, but must also become habitual. Similarly, sin is habitual. The more we are surrounded by sin, the more it can become acceptable, the more that it is likely we will reject God's grace, and the more we end up sinning. If there is a particular sin that is acceptable and encouraged in one's sphere of influence, it is likely that the person will fall to that temptation and that sin will become habitual. The possibility of being taught a particular sin seems evident here, but I think we must remember that sin could not be learned unless one was predisposed to it in the first place. If we were in a complete state of grace, we would be impervious to sin. It is only by God's grace that one can prevent falling to that temptation.

An example of this (I hope it is a good one) is Abraham. He was surrounded by idol worship in his family and in his community. He was even taught to worship idols and did so at one time(at least that is what the I've read the Church teaches) until God spoke to him and told him to take his people to a land that He will show him. Abraham didn't have to believe the voice he heard, but he responded positively to the Lord. He left the world of idol worship behind, a world that he had been heavily influenced by, and the rest is salvation history.

There are also situations where one can fall headlong into a particular vice though they never had any external influences that encouraged them to do so beforehand. For example, a woman that my friend knows was raised a good Catholic girl. She was very pious and seemingly virtuous. I believe he said that she was even a good Catholic school teacher. Anyway, sometime in her 30s (I think he said, though I'm not clear on the age) she entered a casino with her family and friends for a fun new experience. She took to gambling immediately. No one knew because those who went with her weren't gamblers; they only went there for fun and didn't make a return visit. As time went by she was reduced to asking people in her parish for money to help "pay her bills" and she even began to steal money from her loved ones. Apparently, she had blown everything she had on the slot machines. All this from ONE experience!

The same goes for many men and women who fall into a life of fulfilling homosexual desires. Many of them will tell you that they weren't taught to be homosexual. They were more attracted to that sin than others, hence it was easier to fall to the temptation and let it become the master over them.

So, sinfulness can be taught by external influences but experience tells us that this is not the "rule". In some cases it is easier for some to accept God's grace and turn from the sin that had been encouraged in their environment than for those who had entertained their unknown predispostion in action for the first time. Therefore, what we see and what experience seems to make clear is that the cause of sin is in fact because of our fallen state which we inherited from Adam. We are predisposed to it. The end (falling into sin) can be acheived by different means, but no one can prevent themselves from sinning based on the environment they grow up in or how they were taught. It is possible that a community that lives in virtue would breed virtue, but it doesn't make it immune to vice. Adam and Eve were in a state of grace. They were not taught to sin by anyone. Yet they were tempted by pride and envy. Once again, it is only by God's grace that sin can be avoided. Even the greatest saints struggled with sin.

Thank God that He sent His Son, Our Lord, to as the Passover Lamb to cleanse us from that stain of Original Sin and through His Holy Spirit freely offers His gift of forgiveness to those with a contrite heart and a desire to repent. I pray that we all receive and accept the grace from the Holy Spirit to repent of our sinfulness so that we may one day see God face to face, have our glorified bodies rejoined to our souls in the resurrection so that we may become perfect men, and live with the One God whom we worship in Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for all eternity.

Plug for The Blessed Virgin, Theotokos: she was given God's special grace the saved her from the stain of Original Sin. Her womb was consecrated for Our Lord to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady, the tabernacle of the Lord, given the grace by God, fulfilled the prophecy of the Fall when she became the Second Eve. In her obedience the world received its Redeemer.

NotMyOpinion30 said...

Sorry, one more thing... :)

A highly intelligent man has the potential to either become saintly or to fall into sin.

St. Augustine and St. Justin Martyr were well-learned (philosophy, science, rhetoric, etc). So were Hilter and Stalin. St. Augustine was a heretic at one time and St. Justin Martyr was a Greek pagan. Hilter was born and raised Catholic and Stalin actually went through Russian Orthodox seminary.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for the comments. I understand and agree with all your points. I started my original post and then got interrupted and had to come back later. Because of this, I never fully got back on track and finished out my original train of thought.

One of the concepts that I wanted to express was that we arent typically driven to any particular sin initially. I understand like you said that even unexposed to a sin (such as a gambling addiction) one can quickly and easily fall into the trap even on the first exposure.

However, if you were to be raised in a very dull house with lets say no tv no outside contact, polite parents no syblings etc.. etc.. etc.. (very unrealistic yes..) Would you have a burning desire deep down in you do go murder? To steal? To rape? To blaspheme God etc.. etc.. We don't have natural urges to actually go and sin. It's not part of our design.

Whereas: a lion does have a natural desire to kill (as a result of the fall of mankind) and the irony is that the lion is naturally good. A lion (even with violent tendencies) does what he is supposed to. Man (without a natural drive to do evil) does precicely what he is NOT supposed to do. I think sin nature involves us having a predisposition to be led astray but it takes external stimuli to do that.

Who sins more a man living on a desert island or a politician in the middle of bustling city? It's a no brainer. The politician has so much more opportunity to sin and external encouragement to do so.

Mike said...

I do think evil is learned, and actually mastered. The reason I say that is serial killers, most of them get better at perfecting their evil as they commit more crime. I think committing an evil act actually retards your conscious to the point that nothing bothers you. Take the kid who steals candy from the grocery store. The first time he attempts this he will feel fear, guilt, embarrassment, but just having the knowledge of how to get away with the crime gives him confidence. If you believe the bible then the answer is clear. We are all born into sin and Jesus died for our sins........... you know the rest. If you don't believe the bible then the answer is a little less clear. Is it a chemical imbalance, is it hereditary, is it simply learned?

Again I go with learned. You brought up a point that people who are not surrounded by sin are less likely to commit crimes. I agree, but I think people need to be aware of what is right and wrong, I think if you shelter somebody from sin their whole life and never even teach them what sin is, then the ignorance would more than likely force them to commit what we would consider a evil. Although to them it wouldn't be. It is a matter of objective morality, heh.