Now there are those who will scoff at the very mention of the word sin. But scoffing at sin is the same thing as scoffing at crime.
That is because crime is simply a human interpretation of sin. Crime has its origin in sin.
Judicial systems are an expression of our subconscious knowledge of right and wrong. Government is the mechanism we use to pass laws to give substance to that subconscious knowledge, and to prescribe appropriate consequences for violations. From earliest times, history testifies to the human quest for what we call justice – a more perfect set of laws that conforms to our inner knowledge of what is right and wrong, or good and evil.
That inner knowledge is based on certain fundamental underlying principles. Evidence of those principles can be found in the earliest legal codes from Hammurabi to the Ten Commandments, and the Edicts of Asoka, which demonstrate that the underlying principles have been entirely consistent throughout history.
Those who claim that our perceptions of right and wrong ‘evolve’ with social changes focus on the wrong issues. They focus on our interpretation of the fundamental underlying principles, and on the methods of proof and punishment, rather than on the principles themselves. In that respect, it should not be surprising that the methods of implementing the principles into systems of laws, and administering those laws and dispensing judgments, would reflect the times and the frailties of human beings.
So it is important to clearly distinguish between the underlying principles, and how human beings interpret those principles
The great Jewish philosopher, Philo Judaeus, made this distinction clear in respect of the Ten Commandments: “for it was suitable to [God’s] own nature to promulgate in his own person the heads and principles of all particular laws, but to send forth the particular and special laws by the most perfect of the prophets, whom he selected for his preeminent excellence, and filled with his divine spirit, and then appointed to be the interpreter of his holy oracles.”
Philo recognized that the underlying principles are immutable and certain. It is the interpretation and implementation of those principles that are imperfect and corruptible.
That is the proper distinction between crime and sin. Sin is a violation of a fundamental principle, while crime is a violation of a human interpretation of an underlying principle. But there is a more destructive element to human law. Not only is the interpretation of the underlying principles susceptible to human mischief, human beings are also adept at circumventing the very principles on which the laws should be founded in order to serve their own particular interests, appetites, and ambitions.
The reason for this relates to the structure of the human brain. The brain comprises three principal faculties: instinct, reason and morality. These three faculties are clearly identified in Genesis 1: 26 – 31, as explained in the article Perspectives on the Scriptures: Genesis Day Six – Programming Human DNA: Morality, Reason and Instinct.
Instincts are indisputable; we are born with them. Human instincts are mostly indistinguishable from animal instincts – reproduction, survival and security. But humans have additional, peculiarly human, instincts, principally the instinct to conquer. Instincts are activated by the prospect of pleasure, or the fear of pain.
Morality is the counterbalance to instincts. It is our inner knowledge of right and wrong. Morality is a manifestation of our innate knowledge of the fundamental principles of right and wrong. The evidence for morality is everywhere – in our great legislative bodies, in our courts of law, in our religious institutions, the work of charities and philanthropists, and even in the writings of our great philosophers. That is because those principles are imprinted into our brains as a neurological moral network, or what the British IVF pioneer, Sir Robert Winston, calls a “morality module.” That network converts the raw mathematical data imprinted in our brains into moral principles, and enables us to judge our actions in accordance with those principles – if we choose to do so. When a fundamental principle of morality is violated, we experience a sense of guilt.
Finally there is reason. No one would dispute the human ability to reason, even if it is rather abstruse on occasion. But reason is a neutral faculty. More reason does not guarantee a better outcome, just as less reason doesn’t guarantee a worse outcome. Those who make the greatest sacrifice for others don’t generally rationalize their way to the sacrifice; they simply respond to what they know deep down is the right thing to do, even if it means sacrificing their own lives.
Reason in the service of morality is what makes an action right, or good, while reason in the service of instinct is what, on the whole, makes an action wrong, or evil. Reason in the service of instinct can justify anything. And more crucially, it will find justification for indulging certain primitive instincts in spite of the guilt. Reason is all too often employed to silence the guilt generated by morality in order to indulge the prospect of pleasure to be had by servicing some or other primitive instinct. Reason in the absolute service of instinct, without any reference to morality, is what we would call pure evil. It is most evident in psychopaths.
It is thus reason in the service of instinct, in varying degrees, that provides the basis of crime, and indeed other acts we consider unlawful.
There are two distinct aspects to crime. One is the physical act itself, and the other is the mental element that initiates the act. In law, this mental element is called the mens rea, or guilty mind. It relates directly to reason – intention, recklessness or negligence. It is not hard to identify most crimes and unlawful acts as being examples of reason in the service of instinct without regard to the guilt generated by morality. The action only becomes unlawful because someone commits an act knowing it to be wrong, or not caring whether it is wrong.
However, it would be delusional to think that human beings only become aware that certain actions are wrong when a law is passed to declare them so (the Thomas Hobbes view). If human beings don’t know that certain actions are wrong, then they wouldn’t know that there should be a law to prohibit them. That is how instinct operates in animals.
Our knowledge that certain actions are wrong precedes making the action a criminal offence. It is the presumption that everyone knows, or should know, that the action is wrong that forms the basis of the offence in the first place. We know that actions are wrong because they generate a sense of guilt if we even consider committing them, and we feel a sense of revulsion when such acts are committed by others.
The evidence is thus incontrovertible. This innate knowledge of wrong, that is made known to us by our “morality module” generating a sense of guilt, is what is more commonly described as sin. And how we translate that innate knowledge into rules of conduct for human interaction is what we call crime. The former is the more perfect version; the latter the more imperfect.
But it is the latter that provides the platform to attack the former. The perception today, and it is a perception those averse to any restraint on their actions are eager to promote, is that wrong is an entirely legislative prerogative. In this view, the only things that can be wrong are those things that the government tells us are wrong. And that is done through legislation.
Anything that is not prohibited by law must be permissible. Something not prohibited by law cannot therefore be wrong, even if it generates a sense of guilt. It is this rather warped and artificial conception of what is wrong that facilitates the legalization of sin. Adultery is a poignant example.
By predicating the whole concept of wrong on legislation, guilt is ridiculed as an emotional reaction of no real consequence. Guilt is portrayed as an artificial and self-inflicted condition because, it is asserted, it must be irrational to feel guilty about indulging in an act that is not specifically prohibited by law. And reason can easily be employed to justify this kind of self-deception.
Once the majority of people are persuaded that guilt is irrelevant unless it is a function of a legislative prohibition, then legislation becomes an instrument to suppress our innate sense of right and wrong. Sin is vanquished. And we become a Godless species of moral mutes in bondage to our primitive instincts. We thus lose our freedom to choose between right and wrong, and become slaves to the moral indifference of those with only the most tenuous connection to their own neurological moral networks, or indeed, totally disconnected from them.
However, this does not mean that morality will cease to exist. That is because the fundamental principles of morality are simply an expression of the moral dimension of the fundamental principles of physics. We can only delude ourselves for so long that we can somehow invent the laws of morality, just as we deluded ourselves about our knowledge of the laws of physics, and most likely continue to do.
Those who propagate this subjective distortion of right and wrong, and those who eagerly subscribe to the distortion, should be under no illusion that the consequences of ignoring the laws of morality will be the same as ignoring the laws of physics – disaster.
This article is based on the book A ‘Final Theory’ of God by Joseph BH McMillan.
 Philo, Decalogue, XXXIII (175).