In the Western world we have abandoned belief in God, so with that goes a number of other long-standing beliefs. One is the concept of sin. Most Westerners no longer believe in sin, and along with that, most people no longer believe they are moral agents who are accountable for their actions.
It is a lot easier to believe that we are simply the products of our environment, or our society, or our genes, and therefore not really evil, than it is to believe in a God who is a personal moral judge of all mankind, before whom we must all one day stand and give an account of our actions.
If there is such a thing as personal evil, we are quite happy to put it down to our lousy upbringing, or an oppressive society, or bad DNA. We simply do not want to take responsibility for our actions, and we will take any excuse and buy any theory which will get us off the hook.
We see this played out all over the Western world. This is certainly the case in much of the West’s judicial system, where concepts of right and wrong and crime and punishment are largely being replaced with concepts of sickness and the like. Judges are likely to let off lightly criminals who have committed horrendous crimes, since they are sure that people are basically all pretty decent, and bad actions must be the product of some mental impairment or psychological imbalance.
We see this nicely illustrated in today’s media. The defence lawyer for Norway mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has come out and said he is insane. This is how one press account discusses this: “The Oslo police on Tuesday evening began a gradual release of the names of the dead in the Norway massacre, as the lawyer representing the man who admitted responsibility said he thought his client was insane and would spend the rest of his life incarcerated.
The lawyer, Geir Lippestad, declined to say whether his client, Anders Behring Breivik, 32, would plead insanity as a defense when his case finally reached the trial stage. But he described Mr. Breivik as ‘very cold,’ distanced from the real world and believing that he was a warrior destined to die for the eventual salvation of European Christian values. ‘This whole case has indicated that he is insane,’ Mr. Lippestad said. ‘I can’t describe him because he’s not like anyone’.”
Of course at these early stages we are uncertain about many things, including the killer’s mental and psychological condition. But it has become quite common for many to describe various criminal acts not as morally unacceptable crimes, but as various types of sickness.
Many have noted this shift from sin to sickness. Back in 1949 C.S. Lewis penned a very incisive piece called, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”. In it he critiqued this theory which claims that all crime is really pathological, and treatment, rather than punishment, is what is required.
Said Lewis, “when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him . . . , we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’.”
He continued, “The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert. But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. . . . The Humanitarian theory, then, removes sentences from the hands of jurists whom the public conscience is entitled to criticize and places them in the hands of technical experts whose special sciences do not even employ such categories as rights or justice….
“The older view was that mercy ‘tempered’ justice, or (on the highest level of all) that mercy and justice had met and kissed. The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and ill-desert in the recipient. If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned.
“How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot? But the Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being ‘kind’ to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark. Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful.”
Charles Colson also speaks to this in relation to the Norway massacre and is worth quoting at length: “Here are two root causes of this horrible act that few in Norway, or the rest of the Western world for that matter, will acknowledge: Evil and sin. You see, Norway is one of the most secular countries in Western Europe. Hardly a shred left of the Christian faith that once dominated the country. So, without that Christian understanding of fallen human nature, the people of Norway are left in mourning, but without an explanation for the horror that has befallen them.
“I can’t help but think of a visit I made to a maximum-security prison outside of Oslo back in the 1980s. I tell this story in my book How Now Shall We Live? I was greeted by the warden, who was a psychiatrist. She gave me a tour of the place, which seemed more like a laboratory than a prison. We met so many other psychiatrists that I asked the warden how many of the inmates here were mental cases. She replied, ‘All of them, of course.’
I was stunned. Really? ‘Well,’ she said, ‘anyone who commits a violent crime is obviously mentally unbalanced.’ This was the ultimate expression of the therapeutic model. People, the reasoning goes, are basically good, so anyone who could do something so terrible as this must be mentally ill. And the solution is therapy. It is a tragically flawed and inaccurate view of human nature. And, as I learned just a few days later, a very dangerous one.
“During that visit I preached the Gospel to the prisoners. They were completely numb to the message. But as I was leaving, a young correctional officer, a Christian, came up to me. She said she had prayed for someone to confront the prisoners with the message of sin and salvation. She was frustrated by the corrections system in Norway, where there was no concept of personal responsibility, and therefore no reason for prisoners to seek personal transformation. Only days later, I learned the tragic news: The young officer I had met was assigned to escort an inmate out to see a movie as part of his therapy. On the way back to prison, he murdered her.
“The point is this: when we attempt to explain away moral evil, we will fail to constrain it. We cannot account for human behavior without recognizing that we are fallen creatures prone to sin. As a sad footnote to the Oslo tragedy, the maximum sentence a criminal can receive in Norway is 21 years. Thus, barring some extraordinary event, the Oslo terrorist will be back on the streets in 2032. An Oslo police spokesperson put it this way: ‘What the world needs to understand about Norway, is that this incident represents our loss of innocence, because we’ve been a very safe country to live in until now.’ She then added: ‘There’s been no reason to keep people in prison for life.’ But there has been and always will be. It’s called sin.”
Quite so. We help no one when we dismiss the notions of sin and personal moral responsibility. All we do is open the door for more crime, more atrocities, and more injustice. As I have said so often, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. And the expulsion of the concept of sin is one such bad idea that we are now paying the price for.