Make Sin History?

Apr 8, 2022

Tom: It is not enough to punish crimes like theft. You have to look at the underlying causes of theft. You have to ask why people steal. Figuring out why people steal can help prevent theft in the future.  

Harry: And why do people steal?

Tom: Studies show one of the biggest underlying causes of theft is poverty.

Harry: And what is the underlying cause of poverty?

Tom: Often enough, it’s racism.

Harry: And what is the underlying cause of racism?

Tom: Well, racism is simply evil.

Harry: What’s the underlying cause of evil?

Tom: Evil doesn’t have an underlying cause.

Harry: Is theft evil?

Tom: Theft can be prevented.

Harry: Can evil be prevented?

Tom: Yes.

Harry: So how do you prevent racism?

Tom: On second thought, I’d say the underlying cause of racism is ignorance.

Harry: What’s the underlying cause of ignorance?

Tom: Probably poverty, as well.

Harry: So theft is caused by poverty, which is caused by racism, which is caused by ignorance, which is caused by poverty?

Tom: Look, I think we all know that racists have primitive, archaic notions about race.

Harry: How do you fix that?

Tom: Through education.

Harry: So you think racism and failing a biology test are morally equivalent? The answer to both problems is education?

Tom: No, of course not.  

Harry: If racism is based on ignorance, how is racism different from not knowing what a mitochondria is?

Tom: Okay, I see your point. I guess I’d say there are different kinds of ignorance.

Harry: Then there has to be different sorts of education, as well.  

Tom: What do you mean?

Harry: If I miss a multiple-choice question on a biology test, I can ask the teacher what the right answer is, and I’ll trust what he says. But a skinhead isn’t going to change his opinion about Jews simply because you make him listen to a sociology prof talk about race.  

Tom: That’s probably true.

Harry: Have you ever spoken to a skinhead?

Tom: No.

Harry: I have. He had read more on race, studied it more, thought more about it, argued more about it. His problem was hate and pride, not a lack of information.

Tom: Well, then I’ll say the underlying cause of racism is evil.

Harry: And evil has no underlying cause?

Tom: Right.

Harry: If evil does not have an underlying cause, where does it come from?

Tom: I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t come from anywhere.

Harry: If it doesn’t come from anywhere, can it be stopped?

Tom: I suppose not. How can you stop something from coming if it doesn’t come from anywhere? When you really think about, evil is simply quite strange.

Harry: Indeed. Are theft and murder evil?

Tom: There are reasons people commit theft.

Harry: Is one of those reasons that they’re evil?

Tom: Not necessarily.  

Harry: Then why is theft against the law?

Tom: Well, because it’s not helpful for society.

Harry: Is racism helpful for society?

Tom: No.

Harry: Then how are racism and theft different?

Tom: Don’t they seem different to you?

Harry: I think theft and racism are both evil.

Tom: You don’t think theft can be prevented?

Harry: No.

Tom: Then what do you propose we do with thieves?

Harry: Before I answer, what do you propose we do with them?

Tom: Thieves need to be rehabilitated. They need help. And we need to fix society so that no one needs to steal.

Harry: Can we fix society so that there’s no more racists?

Tom: …I don’t know. If there are no underlying causes of racism, it doesn’t seem to be society’s fault that there are racists. I guess I’d say if you’re a racist, it’s your own fault.

Harry: Can you rehabilitate racists?

Tom: If you could, it would mean there was an underlying cause for racism and that it wasn’t evil.

Harry: Then what should we do with racist criminals?

Tom: I guess you just… punish them.

Harry: Will punishing racist criminals do them any good?

Tom: It might. Although punishing racists is not about doing racists good. It’s about doing society good.

Harry: What about punishing thieves?

Tom: That still seems vindictive to me. It won’t solve anything in the long run. Most thieves don’t have a choice. They steal because they have to.

Harry: Do racists have a choice about being racist?

Tom: No… Actually, yes. They do.  

Harry: Will more education on the subject of race get them to choose differently?

Tom: Not necessarily. But do you think they have a choice about being racist?

Harry: Yes, but I think thieves have a choice, as well, as does every criminal, and I don’t think any society will ever solve the problem of theft or any other sin for that matter.  

Tom: Why?

Harry: Sin entered the world through a good man and a good woman who had all they needed and lived in an earthly paradise. There were no underlying causes of their sin. And when God found Adam and Eve hiding themselves, he asked them what they did. He didn’t ask them why they did it. I suppose you could say they did it because they could, but God didn’t take away their ability to sin. He punished them and let them go.  

Tom: I don’t think you’re interested in fighting crime or sin at all.

Harry: No, you’re not interested in fighting crime. You’re interested in fighting the underlying cause of crime, and the underlying cause of crime is human autonomy. If we could do away with crime, it would come at the cost of living in a world wherein every moment of our lives was minutely governed by machines, psychotropic drugs, and fear.

Tom: What makes you say that?

Harry: If we’re going to “Make poverty history,” we’re going to have to “Make greed history.”

Tom: I’m okay with making greed history. Who isn’t?

Harry: Are you okay with making lust history?

Tom: What do you mean?

Harry: The only way we’re going to make lust history is to make lust impossible. What would it take to make lust impossible?

Tom: I don’t know.

Harry: Start with your own home. What would it take to make lust impossible for your son?

Tom: Well, I haven’t given him a smart phone because smart phones are “an underlying cause” of lust and stupidity— or wouldn’t you agree?  

Harry: My son doesn’t have a smart phone either, so I understand your point. However, I wouldn’t say smart phones are “an underlying cause” of lust. Smart phones are a temptation to lust, and we are commanded to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” There is a subtle but very important difference between temptations and underlying causes.

Tom: That seems like a cop out.

Harry: The word temptation implies that human beings are rational, spiritual creatures which are capable of good or evil. However, “underlying causes” implies that human beings are merely material creatures, and that sins and crimes are inevitable given certain premises and contexts. It is a material view of man which leads people to believe we can make sin and crime history—sort of the way we made smallpox and polio history. But smallpox is a material thing, whereas greed and envy are not. It's one thing to prudently flee temptation. It's another thing to make temptation impossible. We can make temptation impossible only by reducing men to animals.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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