Thursday, October 13, 2005

Trying to define sin

Sin. And old fashioned word with religious connotations, right? Well, I just happen to like the word – it carries more gravitas than say ‘doing wrong’ or ‘being bad’.

The reason I’m bringing up this issue is really related to a discussion I had with the facilitator in the Alpha Group I’m attending. We disagreed. Sherron, a lovely person, had the attitude that moral standards have dropped. I don’t actually agree with this. Bad news makes good copy, sells media space. That’s not to say we’re, as humans pure as the driven snow, this would be patent rubbish. But the evidence would suggest that in fact we are living more morally than in previous generations. Binge drinking is a hot topic at the moment. Alcohol consumption, in regular and immoderate amounts usually means there is something wrong with you or the structure in which you dwell – unhappy marriage, stress at work etc. Also, the British, as Kate Fox as pointed out, drink in order to become less inhibited. If that’s the case, then perhaps our greater consumption of alcohol is the explanation for the ‘death of Britishness’ – the stiff upper lip we are famous for.

Alcohol though. Peter Ackroyd, the source of all knowledge when it comes to London’s history, mentioned in his recent TV series, that in the late 18th century, there was a gin palace for every 35 people. That’s not a typo. A lot of gin palaces, and thus a lot of alcohol consumption.

The Victorian era is often looked about as some kind of ‘golden age’ of morality. Undoubtedly, some of our greatest engineers, scientists, innovators, architects and entrepreneurs came from this period. But on the other side, the poor lived in squalor mostly, with so called ‘illegitimate’ children being the norm in poorer parts of the UK. Poverty that we in the west have long been able to forget. And this leads to the reason I’m questioning the nature of sin. Much of the Victorian poverty was preventable. There were enough resources to house, clothe and feed everyone. When we think of poverty, we think of Africa or poor parts of Asia. So when you buy your trainers for £40 plus, do you think of the kids who stitched them up for a dollar a day? No, same the Victorians didn’t give a hoot for the east enders and those living in the mill towns of the north.

If I’m not making myself clear (and I seriously want to leave the office before it gets dark), then it is this. Christians and many Americans seem to have the attitude that ‘sin’ is something that we are entirely responsible for. Us, doing unto God as we would to others. “Responsibility” in this context means responsibility. There is nothing wrong with that – I can choose to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person, though the distinctions are more than often a bit blurred.

Yet I can no more change the conditions of the third world poor than I can move 10 tonne rocks with my little finger. What we as a society can do is protest against corporations, unfair trading conditions which make overseas poverty inevitable, and that’s about it, unless we go into full term violence, as we did with the hated Poll Tax in 1990. It takes a lot for a Brit to do this, be assured. Mostly, the good people who campaign against unfair trading conditions, globalisation etc, do nothing more than raise the public sense of unease. And this is perhaps all they can do. Maybe, for example, it will take another natural disaster or three like Katrina before the likes of Dubya wake up and smell the coffee. Oh dear, no coffee, plantations got waterlogged this year. Thhhhaaank you.

Its all well and good trying, at an individual level, to be a sinless person, and yet its just as damn easy being white as snow to our neighbours and loved ones while watching big business and stupid power-gorged governments do nasty things to those they consider beneath them, which lets face it is 99 percent of us. Sometimes we have to do the ant thing – work as a cohesive team against them. And occasionally, it even works.

Final thought: the last time I hunted for a pair of shoes made in Britain by workers presumably paid a living wage, I wore my shoe-leather out.

Mood: Contemplative
Book: Life Expectancy, Dean Koontz
Music: Air con above my desk

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