Written By Thomas Perez. November 1, 2017 at 12:16am. Originally Written May 28, 2017. Copyright 2017.
II Peter 1:20…”No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.”
What is the definition of interpretation? Obviously according to the Judeo-Christian Bible, more specifically, Peter’s Second Epistle, it is the act of not interpreting any given passage of scripture in the Bible by way of what one may think about it and interpret it as divine interpretation. Private interpretation is not tangible. It is therefore subject to falsity and question. Yet we are told to study it and apply its principles in our everyday lives as recorded in 2nd Timothy 2:15. Moreover, as the Psalmist once said; “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path / Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Nelson Study Bible 818, 814). How can one hide God’s word without studying it? How can one study it and not provide an interpretation pertaining to difficult Biblical passages, like the concepts of sin and vice? Or as many theologians and philosophers like to call it; ‘The Problem of Evil.’
We are told in Genesis that interpretations belong to God (Genesis 40:8). If this is true, and I don’t deny it nor do I accept it as such, but if it is true, then the question of evil should rest with God. Providing that there is a God, let the Almighty interpret and explain it to us one day. But when will that day come? I do not know. But until then we will simply have to look into various historical sources, documents and writings to find the answer pertaining to the issues of capital sins, cardinal sins and vices.
As we begin to look into the concepts of sin and vice, it should be understood that they are all set upon the moralities of human contingency. Moral contingency is based upon what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But where did the thought, or concept, of the “moral” originate from? Why does the “right” or “wrong” even exist? Why are they in turn contingent upon the principles of ethics and morals? To answer these questions, and others like it, we must first look into the historical genealogy of the concepts as it pertains to traditional Western thought. In the west these questions and thoughts permeate the most.
In simplistic terms the definition of sin in the New Testament “is to miss the mark (and so not to share in the prize), i.e., (fig) to err especially (mortal), to sin” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible 5). But in the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible, the word for sin means “something habitual” (42). It is in reference to penalties, sacrifices, punishments, offerings and purifications. Moreover, the word for sin as defined under five major religious belief systems; Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are interpreted to mean something different with slight variations (The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Bowker 903). Out of the five, it is Buddhism that does not accept the existence of a omnipotent deity and has no concept of sin as an offense against such a Being / It does however (in terms of the doctrine of karma), distinguish clearly between good and evil Deeds” (903). However, since we are focusing our attention upon the traditional Western thought, we must maintain the one view, as opposed to other concepts of thought, ideology and philosophical conclusions that represent many outside of the Aristotelian and Augustinian point of view.
The analysis of ancient medieval and modern thought pertaining to vice, sin and evil and their corresponding philosophies, theologies, literature’s and art are broad in scope and perception. But if we are to question this scope and perception we must look into its effects, as to what is lawful and unlawful for me to do. This question sits upon the precepts of law. However, “The analytical study of law is a social science called jurisprudence / Anthropological jurisprudence is a branch of judicial science that treats law as an instrument of society created by Man for the use of Man. Law has it’s existence solely in and through Society” (Man in the Primitive World, Hoebel 359). But since law is created by Man, and for man, how can Man judge man? By what right does the judicial system of Man exact punishment over another man? What right does the “right” judge what is perceived to be wrong and unlawful? Or I can re-phrase the questions as follows; by what right does righteousness exact punishment over another man unrighteousness? What right does holiness judge what is perceived to be sin or vice? They are the same questions, but spoken and seen through different concepts. The analysis of such are similar, and are likely parallel to one another.
Spoken, handed down, and interpreted for us since the beginning of civilization; both ancient and modern, the concept of vice, sin and evil are almost as old as human history. One historical document of proof concerning this concept was written by the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians recorded confessions by way of negative confessions. “Statements of innocence, generally called, negative confessions, are found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a document that describes the experiences that the deceased would have upon reaching the underworld” (MinistryMagazine.org). Negative confessions in this case entail looking upon oneself, making determinations of confessions in the underworld. Self-determinations like; “I have not stolen,” “I have not told lies,” “I have not committed adultery,” “I have not killed,” and so forth. It is a sort of self examination.
In ancient Babylon we have “a collection of 282 laws. This collection provides considerable insight into almost every aspect of everyday life in Mesopotamia, and gives us a priceless glimse of the values of this early Society” (World Essential World History, Duiker / Spielvogel 9). It is a collection of laws referred to as the Code of Hammurabi. It “reveals a system of justice / penalties for criminal offenses” (9). These laws were reflective upon their spiritual world views. The ancient religions of Babylon and their views concerning vice and sin became known through appointed hierarchies or priests that represented the people of earth and the ancient gods above and below.
However, it would seem apparent that the sin or vice committed during these days we’re not necessarily against the gods. It was more so against, and about Man himself; Man against man, brother against brother. Nothing is really said about Man against God, or Man living in constant habitual sin against God, or gods. This personalized offense against God began, more or less, in the Book of Genesis. In the Biblical account of Genesis, in particularly the third chapter – verses 11 through 15, we have the fall of Man. And it is from here that the concept of original sin, as put forth by Augustine, Aquinas and the Catechism appears. Here we see the subtle change pertaining to the meaning of vice, sin and evil from judicial systems upon Man, and from Man, now committed against a supreme Being. Therefore, when we vice, sin or commit acts of evil, it is now, not only against Man but it is, also against God. Moreover, Rousseau claims that “religion commands us to believe that since God Himself drew Man out of the state of nature immediately after the creation, they are on unequal because He wanted them to be so; but it does not forbid us to form conjectures based solely on the nature of Man and the beings that surrounds him, about what Mankind might have been if it had remained abandoned to itself” (Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men 132).
In other words what Rousseau, Nietzsche, Foucault and other philosophers were saying is that; Man, as a being unto himself, are merely creatures of nature, no different than that from the animal kingdom. This rhetoric is also similar to Seneca’s discourse in the ancient world called; ‘On Anger.’ Their views are contrast to the Biblical narrative of Genesis. However, what most people don’t realize is the fact that “Genesis does not describe the origin of sin, but it does describe the entrance of sin into the realm of humanity. Genesis 3 describes a historical event” (Moody Bible Handbook of Theology, Enns 319). Thus came the contemplation of origin pertaining to vice and sin. According to this scenario, humanity fell. But where did the temptation come from to make Man fall?
As we have noted, sin, according to Genesis is a historical event, not an origin of it. In other words vice, sin and/or evil was not born or even conceived on that fateful day according to mythos. But it does indicate an existence of some sort even before humanity’s arrival upon the earth. But individuals like Augustine stated that; “everything in the mind that was without God was absolutely sinful; the only good thing left to it was that it existed / Augustine was the first to base all religious feeling and all theological thought on this revolt as an uncertain datum / Further, all sin was sin against God” (History of Dogma, Harnack 70). Moreover, it should be noted that not only does Genesis not describe the origin of sin, but it dates no further than the 9th Century BCE, while the earth and all of it’s creation date back much further. This format of dating is called the ‘Documentary Hypothesis.’
The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory suggested by Scholars that “the Pentateuch, including Genesis, was compiled at a later date. Anonymous editors used at least four documents to piece together the Pentateuch / the four documents are called; the J documents, which uses Yahweh for God, the E document which uses Elohim for God (meaning universal), the P for the Priestly documents and the D for the Deuteronomic documents. The hypothesis was first suggested in the 1800’s (CE). But other Scholars refute this, upholding the traditional view of Moses as being the sole author during the 15th century BCE (Nelson Study Bible, 1). Therefore, the concept of sin as being a historical incident in man due to the fall in the Garden of Eden is probably relatively young, no earlier than the ancient Egyptians and no later than the 7th century as found in the P & D versions.
Later down through the centuries, the concept of sin(s) was given a vice(s). For Augustine and Aquinas sin is a vice. However, there is a subtle difference between the two the concepts. “Vice is opposed to virtue directly insofar as vice is a habit by which one is disposed to behave in the way inappropriate for perfecting his nature / sin is opposed to virtue insofar as it is directly opposed to the good act toward which virtue is ordered” (Treatise on Sin and Vice.edu). Perhaps this is why Augustine conceived the concept of original sin as something that sprang from the free will. Meaning that the ability to sin was already there, but only through provocation. For Augustine and Aquinas sin did not enter the universe until a conscious decision to revolt against God was accomplished. The revolt was not on purpose per-se, but by the inner temptations of the free will.
For theism to maintain its course of free will it must provide Man a personal God. A God that created the heavens and the earth, including Man. For Augustine and Aquinas, God gave Man a free will in which to evoke what is good/righteous or what is bad/evil. The concept deflects the moral wrong against Man onto a moral wrong against God. What better way to achieve what is ethically and morally good than to promote a Supreme Being into the mix in order to attain a civilized society based upon laws and moral codes. But in so doing Man has inadvertently created, as Nietzsche calls it, the ‘Master Slave Morality.’
These historical epochs, or eras, if you will, all had a hierarchy of elite priests and aristocracies, with Christianity, and their Abrahamic cousins; Judaism and Islam at the forefront. It is a pyramid of upper and lower caste systems in relation to sin, holiness and evil. It is a separation of the so-called two classes; the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean, the chosen and the damned, the saint and the sinner. And in order for one to achieve a godly nature, civil standing or a reputation of good report, one must perform ritualistic ceremonies, sacrifices and even offerings onto the elites and their gods. Yet, even “with all this Augustine agrees. Unless you believe you will not understand / This is because he considers the will to have primacy even over knowledge; anything not properly known cannot be properly loved, which happens when the will, not reason, is corrupted. Faith is, then, the means of cleansing the will” (Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, Carey / Lienhard 39).
Religious systems to a certain degree encourage a moral sense of what is right and wrong to do, as evidenced in the decalogue (the Ten Commandments). But it also fails to recognize true equality. Because true equality to them is true adherence to their own form of persuasion or God. This is evidenced in the first four Commandments of the decalogue. The first four pertains to the Israelite God with reference to worship and servitude. While the remaining six are universal and civic.
But while maintaining a universal code of ethics, we also read of the Israelite campaigns of war against other ethnic cultures; like the Philistines, Canaanites, Amorites and Jebusites. For the most part, the Abrahamic faiths are based upon conquest and/or forced conversions. But if this doesn’t work, there’s always the tapestry of the free will. A free will in which almost every Abrahamic missionary utilizes in order to present God as universal. it is a step higher. A step that is in slight denial to Aristotelian and Augustinian concepts. “Aristotle says that everything aims for the good. Aquinas says that any created good derives from God, who contains all perfection found in creatures is tending to what is to be found in God / God is the special goal of rational individuals (501).
The perception of sin and vice remained a constant thought through out the epochs. From the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Jews, Christians and Arab nations, the idea of sin and vice ran parallel to their beliefs and socio-political ideologies, and thus continue to run it’s course, even to this day. In the past it kept the commoners (society) in check, that is until the Age of Reason. With the rising tide of reason and enlightenment many began to question the traditional picture of anthropology. The Age of Reason or Enlightenment roughly dates from 1650 to 1800CE. Prior to this Man was seen within a religious context.
However, many began to take a step back and re-evaluate Man and his nature of being through other fields of study outside of theology; namely biology, psychiatry and psychology. It is during this period, epoch, or era, that humanity began to look at the Middle Ages and The Reformation as eras where putting the word of God was first and foremost. To the Protestant, it was Biblical Authority alone that had the final say. To the Roman Catholics it was the Church, its traditions, its Catechism and the Bible that had its final say. The ideologies of these eras was that, “Man’s basic concern in this life was his preparation for the next. the Age of Reason rejected that. In place of faith, it set reason. Man’s primary concern was not the next life, but happiness and fulfillment in this world. And in the mind of Man, rather than faith, was the best guide to happiness – not emotions, or myths, or superstitions” (Church History in Plain Language, Shelly 312).
This new line of thinking gave birth to various questions regarding Man and even the very existence of God. Although the latter is nothing new. But with that denial came the question of vice and sin. What socio-political, religious and moral purpose do they have today? Many today question the moral aspects of vice and sin. They question to what extent is something truly evil as Rousseau does in his ‘Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men.’ To many today, it would seem that, “God (who many say is) in the form of law, is evidence of preference of holiness to sin, His declaration in the form of doctrines is as good evidence, that He on the whole prefers sin to holiness. While in respect to the latter preference, we have the additional and confessedly decisive proof of actual events in His providence / sin, therefore, in every instance of its occurance, is proved by the highest kind of evidence, to be the best kind of moral action. Thus sin is no longer sin, vice is no longer Vice. Right and wrong, according to this theory, have changed places; and what God has pronounced, and Man regarded as wrong action is (really the) right moral action” (Quarterly Christian Spectator.com).
But surely a concept like this cannot justify random acts of murder, the sexual abuse of children, corruption in politics, or even thievery as something to wink at. if we lived in a society where a “anything-goes” attitude existed then we would be just one step away from total anarchy. If such a twist were to be accepted, then can I justifiably kill someone for stealing my money? Can I justifiably kidnap and rape an adult, or even a child, and justify it merely on the grounds of the “inner sense” of lust or love? Moreover, what would be the reaction of the victims families and friends? Would they be justified to seek revenge by means of torture or death? The result of the justifyer is the same; torture and death. The victim and the perpetrator suffer the same ends also; torture and death.
The best possible way to answer these questions is to set into motion a series of scenarios. In the first scenario, picture yourself as Superman. You see a building on fire. Wouldn’t you fly into the building to save all trapped inside? Surely God sees all. If so, why do many suffer? Can’t He save all? Or does He choose not to? If so, then He condones evil, suffering and death. And by His own account He has broken his own code, the code of the Good Samaritan. Isn’t it His duty to save and help all?
In another scenario, I can turn the other way when I see an injustice being committed, or I can be silent. But if I do so, it can be said that I broke the code of moral duty. Doesn’t a omnipotent God do the same by turning His face away when a child dies from starvation every 5 seconds? Moreover, why doesn’t He intervene during natural disasters? Even in the world of action comic book heros and blockbuster Hollywood films, the pharse “with great power comes great responsibility” is often heard. Instilling in us the moral and ethical responsibility we have to our fellow man. Shouldn’t God do the same?
In the third and final scenario we can picture a choice to be made. A mother is holding onto two of her children. Both have tripped and are now hanging over a cliff. Both are hanging onto their mother by hand. One on the left and one on the right. But the mother has only enough strength to pull one up to safety, but must use two hands to do so. And in so doing, must let the other perish. What would you do? Would you try to save the best one? What if they both were equally good and best? Would you let them both go, so as not to live with the guilt of preference?
Scenarios like these entail what is known as the moral challenge, dilemma and duty. The last scenario is almost impossible to answer. But if one were to look at it from a spiritual perspective then perhaps the story of a dying and rising Savior, as Christianity portrays, provides us with some relief as to the question at hand. Perhaps this God, or goodness of Man, could no longer live/exist with this guilt, therefore providing Himself as the ultimate sacrifice in order to appease that guilt. And what better way to appease that guilt than the setting up of local judicial systems of law and religion. “The charm of Christ has been thought to be his union of the human and divine” (New Essays in Philosophical Theology, Flew / Macintyre 226). Perhaps this is why injustices always demand a Justice to be served – where a wrong is righted, so to speak. Perhaps we are the true dying and rising gods. Or perhaps the singular, or the one good, as Augustine coins the phrase, did die and rose on our behalf.
Whatever the case may be the concepts of sin, and its moral vices of; lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride are perhaps best served when the opposite of these vices are demonstrated. The opposite of these vices are; love, temperance, charity, ambition, forgiveness, contentment and humility. In the past, and even onto this day, they are seen as attributes pertaining to religious concepts. One should strive to avoid the sins of the flesh. This is amicable. But in today’s society, lust is considered an attraction. Lust and love provide us with gratitude and satisfaction – of which both are neutral aspects of lust and love.
Of lust because we are satisfied. Of love because we are grateful for family and offspring. But satisfaction and gratitude cannot run is course without vice or virtue. A gluttonous person is satisfied because he, or she, over ate. Another person does not over eat; grateful that he, or she, is healthy, lean and trim. One is satisfied because he, or she, has everything that money can buy. The slothful person sees this, and is envious, and does something about it. Turning envy and sloth into something productive like earning a living to achieve money. Yet there are others who are simply grateful for what they have, choosing a path of asceticism and/or monasticism instead. Even pride is reflected in humility, as in the case that some maintain a sense of false humility. Pride can be satisfied as in a good deed accomplished; taking pride in your work, a good self-esteem, and it can be grateful of such. But Pride can also entail arrogance, vanity and narcissism. This is when gratitude goes out the window.
As such, these sins, or vices, if you will, can become detrimental to an individual’s overall character and well-being. Whether they are looked upon from a religious or psychological perspective, these negative attitudes should not be encouraged. Lust, for example, should never be encouraged outside of a committed monogamous relationship, whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual one. Lusting outside of one’s committed monogamous relationship is always detrimental to the one offended and cheated upon. similarly, lusting (or even fulfilling the act), or coveting upon a child should never be considered something allowable due to the nature of the child not understanding, or being fully capable of consent. Even if consent is given, the child remains under age and naive. Cultures differ on this issue, thereby setting up for themselves statues concerning what is considered underage or age appropriate. Moreover a civilized society’s elective on such matters seem to always rest upon a general democracy as chosen by the people. This is a good thing, as opposed to someone arbitrarily making or breaking laws.
Another evil, like murder, without just cause, is seen as sin more so than a vice. Though there are some who habitually commit acts of murder. Murder, more so than often, stems from anger and wrath, something which Seneca and Nietzsche had a lot to say about. When murder without just cause is committed it should be punished. Because when one murders, it robs the victim of their potential pursuit to happiness and/or the good life; religious or secular. But murder in self-defense is justifiable. We should always have the right to preserve ourselves and our pursuits. There are many other examples of sin, vice and evil. We have only scratched the surface. The concept of sin, holiness, vice or virtue, right or wrong; Christian or otherwise, has proven itself to be an effective means by which to achieve the greater good.
However, “No text is free from bias. All of them are products of particular times and are designed to serve particular interests. The question, then is, whose interest will our theology serve? Whose interests do the interpretations of sin and evil serve” (Constructive Theology, Jones / Lakeland 158). I personally see no harm in the concepts of sin or moral evil as having a place in contemporary society. Our understanding of such, regardless of their origins or where we rest our convictions and beliefs upon, should always constitute a good thing. And if that belief, whether religious or political, helps us to avoid vices and/or sins then there is no harm in it. Regardless of religion or politics, everyone has a right to their own conscience with reference to these things. But one should never infringe their beliefs upon others forcibly. Let the people chose and believe in their chosen religious or political persuasions, but let that belief or persuasion maintain the good. And let that “good” bring forth good consequences of happiness, health and long life for you and our fellow Man.