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The Devil Inside

April 16th, 2008 | by Dr. Forbush |

One fundamental difference between social conservatives and social liberals pertains to what makes a person “bad.” Are people born bad or good? Can good people become bad people? Can bad people become good people? What does it take for people to be good or to be bad?

Jesus actually spoke to this repeatedly. He understood that the main obstacle for a sinner was forgiveness. The ritual rite of Baptism was a cleansing and renewal that John the Baptist brought to us. The fasting in the desert was a way for people in Jesus’ time to shed the habits of sinfulness and to renew themselves. But, when a former sinner wanted to reunite with the community the only obstacle tended to be the community itself. The community expected sin from its sinners, just like it expected goodness from its leaders.

All of this is counterintuitive if we actually think about this for a second. Are we always good? Are we always bad? Of course we are never always one or the other. We are all truly human, and humans falter and err. So, we should expect the same of other people throughout society in general.

In “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” Philip Zimbardo explains to us how he discovered that random people will become evil by the circumstances that they find themselves in. External influence clouds the perception of what we believe to be good or bad. And soon we find ourselves doing bad things without realizing that what we are doing is bad. This was a scientific experiment that resulted in a conclusion that the researchers weren’t prepared for. This same breakdown in social norms resulted in those photos from Abu Grab in Iraq.

What Philip Zimbardo points out is that the external environment can make the probability that people will turn bad more or less likely. In fact, he is not saying that people can not resist these effects. What he is saying is that there are environments that make the likelihood that bad deeds will happen more probable. And, one element in that environment is the existence of people who disregard the rules. If an environment exists that will have a high probability of one person breaking the rules, then it becomes more likely that the next person will break the rules, and soon many people are breaking the rules until finally all of the people are breaking the rules. If we know this in advance, then environments may be created that reduce the probability of “bad” behavior.

Now, one interesting dilemma however is that when some people are given the power to judge the “goodness” of another person’s behavior then that person has an increased risk of having “bad” behavior. Within the bastions of authority we find corruption. This is not surprising, but it creates a need to “police” our authorities. Secrecy also increases the risk that someone has a higher likelihood of breaking a rule. Secrecy offers a safe zone in which no one knows what is being done. Once again this isn’t surprising. The point that is surprising is that all of us have the potential for evil within ourselves.

To sin is human. To be selfless is also human. Humans have a wide range of behavior and every one of us is capable of all of these actions.

The conservative model of crime and punishment is based on the idea that we take the bad people and separate them from the rest of us. This separation of good from evil will purify the society and we will have a better society. This model would make sense if there truly were good people and bad people. There might be a few bad people that we would not discover, because they would be able to conceal their “badness” because that is what bad people do.

However, the Christian and Liberal model of crime is not based on this idea. Instead, any Christian can tell you that we are all sinners. We all break rules and we all sin. The problem is that once a person sins then they have a personal loathing for themselves about the sin they have committed or the rule that they have broken. (Of course this is if they feel that the rule or sin was actually worthwhile.) Some sinners or rule breakers feel justified in breaking the rule or sin because they feel that the rule or sin was unjust in itself. People who speed generally feel that they are justified in breaking the rule because they can personally speed without hurting anyone or causing any problem. Other people might see a speeder and feel justified because they should also be allowed to get to their destination earlier. When the speeding actually results in an accident, then the speeder will feel remorse and self loathing. A Christian or Liberal will explain that those first speeders should not break the law for the good of the community. If the community witnesses a rule breaker then the probability of rule breaking will increase. The final result will be another accident.

A liberal will tell you that laws should exist for the good of the community. Conservatives will tell you the same thing. But the idea behind the mechanism for these laws is completely different. Conservatives want to discourage the “bad” people and encourage the “good” people. Liberals and Christians want to prevent the community from evolving into a “bad” community.

I wrote this explanation in order to point out that the Catholic Church is bound to repeat the sins of the past, because the authority in the Catholic Church does not understand the problem. Today, the Pope announced that the pedophile problem in the Church will be fixed because the Church will no longer select pedophiles to become priests. On the face of this it sounds like a good idea. Screen the potential priests and determine whether they are pedophiles. When pedophiles are found, then don’t allow them to become priests. The problem is not with the selection between good and bad people to become priests. The problem is with the environment that allows pedophiles to develop after they have already become priests. Pre-selecting non-pedophile priests and demanding that they remain celibate will increase the probability that those priests will seek sexual gratification. Obviously not all priests will chose children for that gratification, but arresting their sexual maturation to the time that they become celibate will increase the probability that they will seek people of similar sexual maturity when they do seek sexual gratification. Of course not all priest will become pedophiles, but the probability will be increased. Secrecy, mystery and authority enable priests to act on impulses that the environment nurtures.

The only real solution to this problem is to recognize the true nature of being human. Being open about being a sexual human being will allow priests to mature in their understanding of what it truly means to be human. When other priests know what everyone is thinking about on this level it allows the entire community to mature. Taking away the secrecy and forgiving each other even if one falls builds strength in the community. Ensuring that children can not be allowed to become victims puts everyone on the same page. However, realizing that sexual and emotional gratification found only in meaningful human relationships is the only real way to quell the ominous potential for this evil and will most likely never happen. And without that particular reform we will continue to have a few priests continue to sin in this way for a long time to come.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

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