This is basically another reprise of a column from yesteryear, but amid today's climate of nonstop finger pointing, with just about every Tom calling out just about every Dick or Harry over some aspect of behavior that Tom finds despicable (and vice versa), it seemed apt.
As always, see what you think.
Among all human foibles, if there's a single trait that astonishes and, really, amuses me more than any other, it's the tendency to rationalize and excuse whatever degree of sinfulness we find in our own hearts, while pointing an accusing finger at someone else whose own degree of sinfulness slightly differs from, or extends one iota beyond, our own. Of course, in most cases we don't even recognize our own behavior as sinful (or, if we prefer to avoid the use of a word freighted with religious overtones, wrong). Sins occur only when someone else crosses a line that we ourselves would not cross.
A man who treats all of his employees in a belittling, dehumanizing fashion, draining them of their pride and their very zest for life, becomes outraged reading the story of the fun-loving, generally nice-guy boss at another company who's accused of groping a female employee.
A woman who has two children and then has an abortion next time around for the sake of convenience ("I didn't want to be raising more kids at this stage of life") demands justice after a gang member kills one of the first two kids during a drive-by shooting.*
A man who has had affairs in the past (or is having an affair with you at that very moment) is enraged when his paramour/you sneak(s) off to enjoy an evening with another man.
A woman who finesses her income taxes gets furious at her son for being kicked out of school after cheating on an important exam.
A jury gets even on society's behalf by imposing the death penalty on a teenager who got even with a bully who'd taunted him for years.
A venal corporate executive who sacks his company by implementing dubious executive-compensation policies that allow him and his cronies to skim off the top feels no qualms about prosecuting the "young punk" who broke into his house to steal his big-screen TV.
A Pope who kept silent about Nazi atrocities during World War II tells millions of Catholics how they must take a stand against evil wherever and whenever they encounter it. Related: A so-called "cafeteria Catholic" who breaks his religion's law by practicing birth control bitterly denounces a fellow Catholic who uses the N word in describing blacks.
My point being: Really, who decides what's worse than what else? And isn't it interesting that, left to our own devices, we tend to decide that the things we do—our unique flaws and vices—are "OK" in the grand scheme of things?
It's always the other guy who's "crossing the line."
We often call this hypocrisy, and it's easy to spot when the transgressions are parallel: that is, when the rest of us catch you attacking someone else for doing the same thing you've been doing in secret. But what about when the transgressions aren't parallel?
+ Is it worse to rape a woman...or shoot a bison grazing peacefully in a field for the pure thrill of it?We're also inclined to discount sins of omission: The wealthy woman who wears a $5000 designer gown to a social event where she'll be greeted like royalty has almost surely had a hand in ending human lives by doing so; she just doesn't realize it. She could've worn an inexpensive frock and donated the rest to prevent African children from starving. (So maybe there's gun death...and gown death?) For that matter, she could've passed up the event entirely, dismissing it as a worthless frill. In that context, is what she did—wearing a pretty gown to a nice social event—better or worse than the genuinely poor teenager who mugs an elderly woman for her handbag so that he himself can avoid starving? As the foregoing illustrates, we also tend to label it "sin" only when we can see a straight line of causation: the direct impact. If we can interpose several layers of complexity and confusion between cause and effect, we can tell ourselves no harm, no foul.
+ Is it worse to rob a bank...or chronically intimidate your wife/kids?
+ Is it worse to tell a lie that you think is small (bearing in mind that we seldom see the end-term consequences that a lie may set in motion, which can be catastrophic, even when the lie is a little white one) or to kill one person without whom the world would be better off (though the world may not know it at the time the killing takes place)?
In truth, I suspect that all sins—perhaps even all behaviors, whether we're wont to adjudge them good or bad here on earth—may be somehow analogous. Perhaps all behavior is created equal. We each have degrees of (self-defined) sin we can live with. We have "bargains" we make—with God (if we choose to acknowledge Him), with ourselves, with the people who like us just the way we are. It's one unending rerun of the old quiz show, Let's Make a Deal.
* I am not implying in my own voice that abortion = murder. But surely you'll find no shortage of folks who would make that argument and find (im)moral equivalence between the two events.