Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Are Your Sins of Omission?

By Alexander Green,

Full article here at Spiritual Wealth

I recently viewed the History Channel's series on the Seven Deadly Sins – that 1,600-year-old inventory of our universal shortcomings: pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, and lust.

I was surprised to learn that most philosophers and theologians consider sloth the single most insidious vice.

I've always thought sloth was one of the more amiable weaknesses. Does sitting in front of ESPN with a bag of Doritos really constitute a great moral failure?

But the spiritual meaning of sloth is not laziness. It's apathy, hardness of heart, moral indifference, blindness, complacency, and "smallness of soul." Poverty, injustice and suffering exist, in part, because we don't act. Sloth is the category that encompasses everything we should do but don't.

That's a big one.

Few of us spend time reflecting on the ethics of inaction. We are interested in all sorts of things – friends, family, work, Angelina Jolie. But our personal moral failings? Not so much.

We already know it's wrong to lie, cheat, kill, or conk a woman on the head and run off with her purse. Sins of commission are easy to identify. But sins of omission? That's trickier.

For example, it's clearly wrong to drown someone. But our legal system will not prosecute you for letting someone drown. Killing a child elicits universal condemnation. But permitting thousands of children to die each day from starvation is different.

Or is it?

As Dennis Ford writes in Sins of Omission, "Every three days, more people die from malnutrition and disease than from the bombing of Hiroshima. Every year, more people die from preventable hunger than died in the Holocaust. Somewhere along the line, moral reflection and outrage have lost their audience."

I'm one of those missing in action. Most days I go about my business, do my work, chip away at my problems and hardly give a thought about the rest of the world's.

But does our failure to act make us morally culpable? Is the misery of others ever the product of our own indifference? Is doing "too little" morally reprehensible? And why is it uncomfortable to even consider these questions?

No doubt it's partly because the world is so full of problems that we're wary of letting them drag us down. Ayn Rand once received a letter from a reader who was inspired by her writings but found the world such a mess he said he didn't know where to begin to change it. Rand responded that if a doctor showed up at a battlefield and hundreds of soldiers lay wounded and dying, he wouldn't despair that he couldn't save them all and drive off. He'd identify the most urgent situation and get to work.

Yet whether the issue is feeding the poor, protecting the environment or caring for the elderly, few of us are committed enough to inconvenience ourselves for change.

Why are we unmoved? How do we sustain and legitimize our apathy?

I recently put these questions to Dr. Craig Shealy...

Full article here at Spiritual Wealth

1 comment:

  1. With regard to starvation, specifically, I'd sum it up in a word: Ethiopia.

    For my generation, the response to the Ethiopian famine was awe-inspiring. From the actions of governments to the actions of individuals to the wonderous success of mass phenomena like Live Aid and We Are The World, the abilitiy of good people in the U.S. and other wealthy nations to offer meaningful help to the less fortunate around the world seemed breathtaking.

    Then we found out that the famine was man-made.

    We watched as tons of donated food rotted on the docks because the sovereign government of Ethiopia wouldn't distribute it to people from tribes and regions that had opposed them.

    We looked on with horror as well-meaning NGOs and donated life-saving medical supplies were rushed to where they were needed...and used as BAIT to lure whole villages viewed as anti-government (or just of the "wrong" ethnicity) to places where they could be rounded up and "forcibly resettled."

    In short, we saw the limits of humanitarian action that relies on local governments to go "the last tactical mile" to the folks who actually need the aid...local governments who too often see every item desperately needed by their people as a source of power and control.

    And a lot of us disengaged.

    The tragedy, of course, is that the NGO community saw these abominations too--and over the past couple decades has been actively working to figure out ways to address the issues leading to them--but by then a lot of the potential donors had drawn their conclusions and turned away. And true, I still wouldn't put a lot of confidence in our ability to save starving people deep in the heart of a rampant kleptocracy...but progress has been made.

    Which makes the do we SHOW that to the world, and re-engage those who would dearly LOVE to care again...?