Some time ago I wrote a short article that briefly discussed moral luck and discussed the implications of circumstance in making moral decisions. Here is most of the article, neatly summing up my original point:
Why should a poor starving individual be punished for fighting for survival? They had a choice, steal food or die. Nobody, not even the most moral people on the planet would choose to die. Does that mean that morality is relative? No. It means that when it comes to survival perhaps morals must be applied in a different way. I, in no way, believe that morality is relative, based on the times, and on what is publicly acceptable. I believe that morals are eternal truths and behaviors, what is right will always be right. It will not change every year or so like social circumstances of relativists. They would have you believe that what is socially acceptable is okay. No matter what that is.
In response I received a reply stating that the only moral is protect what you love and leave the rest to hell. That there are no sins, only survival. Obviously, I cannot agree with that. Sin is real, but what is it? The following, some being taken from my original response to Hoodseed, as he calls himself, is an attempt to define sin. Sin is the worlds oldest act and, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, one of the very first. Adam disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and was banished from Eden and left in this world of toil and sweat we find ourselves in today. But what is sin? Judeo-Christendom says it is acting in opposition to God’s will. Atheists say it doesn’t exist. (God or sin) Pseudo-religious relativists say sin is all in the eye of the perpetrator; a sin is only as sin of the one committing it believes it so. It is quite apparent that opinions on the subject vary greatly. Why don’t we take a look at it from another perspective: Action-Reaction.
If we look at sin, better yet actions in general, as a system of action and reaction we can, perhaps, get a better understanding of what our actions do and what sin is, or is not. Let us begin simply: What is the result of a hammer striking a wall? Inevitably a sheet-rock wall will break, the action of striking it with a hammer will create a hole. The consequence is inevitable.
Now, let us move into more complex action-emotional interactions. First, what is the result of smiling at a friend? The friend will feel good and, likely, will smile back. Simple, it happens daily. What about a mutually desired kiss? Both people feel good; an inevitable consequence. Now some negative examples: What is the result of calling someone a degrading name? Shame or anger; generally negative emotions. Forcing someone into an uncomfortable situation? Discomfort, anger, possibly, and more generally negative emotions.
Taking this system we have going here to mind let us look at an act considered by all as sin. Rape is extremely disturbing psychologically and can destroy what was once a perfectly functional individual and turn her into an empty shell of a person. This gives us the following action-reaction system:
Rape => Severe psycho-emotional pain
Another, less extreme, example is dishonesty. While not as drastic as rape, dishonesty can undermine any relationship and leave those involved feeling cheated and hurt. Again we have the system:
Lies => Pain
So, what is the common factor in these examples? Pain. Sin always results in pain, eventually. It may not be felt directly by the one committing the sin, but it is felt. I could go on forever with examples of sin-acts and their consequences but if you think about it you will see: every act defined by sin in all religions that have a concept of sin and those acts defined as wrong by those who have no concept of sin yet retain a sense of morality causes pain.
Let us look at some exceptions to the pain=sin argument that follow the same line of reasoning. If one person is committing an act, such as burglary, which will cause a great deal of emotional and economic pain on the family it is being inflicted upon. The pain that the burglar must endure if he is killed or beaten off of the families property will, in all likelihood, be less than the sum of the pain caused, both directly and in-directly, by the burglar. Is this act sinful? The inhabitants of a home are perfectly within their rights to forcefully remove a threat to their safety. Both parties involved have pain inflicted upon them by the other but we also have to look at how much pain each is inflicting and how much pain each is projected to inflict.
Your average family exists in a generally positive state, it’s members are happy and it generally effects those it interacts with positively. Your average burglar exists in a generally negative state and his actions generally hurt those he interacts with. Also the burglar is hurting x number of people: the family-group directly effected, those connected to that family group that sympathize, and the people in the surrounding area who lose their sense of security. Our equation, then, results in greater pain being inflicted by the burglar than is being felt.
Good and evil, sin and virtue, are based upon what humanity, in their long experience, have reasoned to cause the most and least amounts of pain. Good removes pain, evil causes and increases pain. From a religious prospect sin is what God knows will cause His children pain and He has commanded us to avoid those acts that we may have happiness.