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Friday 20 July 2018
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Commentary

Sin, crime, politics

PROF RAMESH DEOSARAN

Sin. This is described as “the breaking of divine or moral law; an offence against good taste or propriety.” In other words, while “sin” was originally seen as breaking a religious rule or moral law, the word has also fallen into secular use; that is, behaving in bad taste or improperly. And so, during these Easter days, the church emphasis will be on sin, forgiveness, sacrifice and the reasons for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a political rebel in his days. In fact, a lot in the congregation may feel guilty of one sin or another on hearing the bloody details of his journey to the cross.

All religious texts have their stories of inspiration and holy promises. The Bible is remarkable for its parables – an instrument to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. And as a high school student, I was inspired by several parables, doing well in the Cambridge ‘O’ level exam on Religious Knowledge. Children enjoy hearing stories from holy books – be it the Bible, Ramayan or Quran. No wonder there are now so many child-like cartoons on religious heroes, intending them as moral codes for behaviour. But then the mind of a child often falls easy victim to opposing temptations. The bible persistently notes human weaknesses.

One of my favourite parables is the “Sower and the Seeds.” This can be seen as how good advice or policies can fall on deaf ears. The sower had some seeds to plant. Some fell by the wayside where they got down-trodden (by sinful temptation) and birds ate them up. Some seeds fell upon rocks, lasted a while, but quickly withered due to lack of moisture (lacking faith) Other seeds fell among thorns which grew up to choke them (through worldly “riches and pleasures”). In every case, the seeds went astray. But the farmer persisted. Finally, some seeds fell on fertile ground, and “bore fruit hundredfold,” by meeting an “honest, good heart and patience.” (Luke, 8: 5-10,15).

In the parable, the seed is “God’s word” on how to behave well. On being questioned, Jesus told his disciples, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” For us here, planting seeds for policy-making do not always meet “honest and good hearts.” Politics here, it is said, has “its own morality.”

Why do we persist in doing the same failed thing the same way, and expecting to get a better result? Like the politics of “putting new wine in old bottles.” The parable is this: “No man putteth new wine in old bottles else the new wine will burst the old bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles and both are preserved. No man having drunk old wine straight way desireth new wine; for he saith the old is better. (Luke 5: 36-38)"

People find comfort in old, bad habits – a kind of death wish. Change, with new faces and ideas, is threatening. With political expediency, we persist in putting new ideas into old structures. It fails every time.

There is this parable about sinning and the environment. It says: “Whatsoever thing entereth from without the man, it cannot defile him. Because it entereth not into his heart…That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man, for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, thefts, wickedness, deceit,” etc (Mark, 18:23). This is a challenge for social science which says that it is the environment, poverty for example, which defiles people into sin and crime. Is there a holy spirit, a conscience from inside, to resist the temptation?

One of my favourites is a biblical event. That is when Peter pledged to stand by Jesus as loyal disciple when faced with persecution. Jesus replied: “Peter, before the cock crow twice, thou shall deny me thrice.” Peter insisted on his loyalty. But alas, with soldiers around, when he was pointed out three times as Jesus’ supporter, Peter denied it. And the cock crowed twice. Peter went away, weeping (Mark, 14:72). A story of broken loyalty under pressure – but far from Judas’ sinful betrayal. Human weaknesses, disloyalty, betrayal – still thriving today.

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