“collective” sin

Islam, thankfully, rejects the belief in Original Sin (17:15), and in fact anyone disabled of full mental capacity also loses the ability to sin, until (and unless) that capacity is restored–that includes children before reaching an age of understanding and, less often mentioned, the dreamer before waking.

I was taught this as I grew up, and I was also taught that although sins aren’t inherited, the sins of a parent can harm the child. Of course this sounds obvious, but I’m not talking about parents sinning in their behavior against their children (alcoholism, abuse, etc.); I am talking about the ways that can be attributed specifically to Islamic philosophy: parents are expected to leave their children a monetary inheritance, for example, and a parent who makes a living stealing will leave the child money that is haraam, sinful to accept.

In other words while no one is born having inherited sin or as sinful by default, you can be born into a situation where you sin unless you do something. Or really–if you do do something; accepting that money is viewed as its own action–a perpetuation and active continuation of the wrongs that your parents began.

Manifested in a larger sphere, we are sinning all the time. I would like to believe I am aware when I feel that something is being wrongfully taken from me of whether it was truly mine in the first place. Was it mine–rightfully–or was I merely benefiting from the perpetuation of a legacy established in sin, something I wouldn’t have been entitled to in the first place?

To become indignant about something that was never yours is, I believe, one of the greatest forms of arrogance.

Whether the sin itself is being counted to any degree is a different question than the effects of it; the former depends on whether the situation of need modifies one’s agency, which is why I don’t torment myself with the idea that I’m sinning on such a massive level, and why I don’t expect people to blame themselves to the point of psychological derangement: the child who eats from what is purchased with stolen money, for example, is sinless compared to when s/he inherits that money–not merely because of the development in mental capacity, but the change in need: hunger is something uncontrolled, that infringes on the ability to act freely, obstacles (why isn’t this a verb; this should totally be a verb) a person’s ability to reason, rendering them momentarily incapable of sin. The effects are still (equally) harmful for those from whom you are stealing, but the weight of the sin is lessened. It is important that we are both unrelentingly loving and unrelentingly just to ourselves, because this is to be virtuous.

Not everything that is “taken” from you merits as much outrage as when you’re starving though. Sometimes we have to suffer a little to right the wrongs of the situation in which we were born. And that is just and justice, because in its execution nothing is being “taken” from which we would not have benefitted from the first place.

We remind ourselves that had our parents not sinned, we would have never had these luxuries anyway, so alleviation from the “suffering” we now experience is not something to which we are entitled, and therefore nothing is being taken, no suffering is being inflicted–undeserved relief is being retracted, relief which we experience wrongfully at the expense of others.

It seems no one has an issue with this in any other context–gifts of stolen merchandise, for example, are still lawfully the property of the entity from whom they were stolen. Generations of parents endowing their generations of children with generations of stolen gifts, however–well, everyone cries for the children.

3 thoughts on ““collective” sin

  1. Julian Morrison

    The problem with systems like imperialism, racism, sexism, is that they leave nothing unmarred by this kind of moral bloodstain. You are faced with a survival choice: accept some part of what’s given, or simply die. After ten thousand years of civilization, there is not a speck of wealth of a scrap of land free of taint. It’s inconceivable to renounce it all – it would be hard enough to renounce the recently tainted. But even so, I think it’s important to refuse to account ourselves as innocent when we inevitably choose survival over purity.

    People hate to feel guilty. In order to defend against that, they have to see what they get as clean, which means they have to hold a deliberately self-deceptive position on how they got it (such as “well it was horrible but it’s all over now, and I wasn’t there anyway, and what do you expect me to do, starve? I’d just rather not think about it.”). So the fear of accepting a moral burden turns into a rather aggressive kind of blind eye. They have an investment in not only failing to see the harm, but a refusal to permit categorizing it as harm (so the oppression must be blamed on the victim).

    For this reason, accepting moral burdens is not needlessly beating oneself up, it’s important to social change.

    1. Oh absolutely. The message is supposed to be, “Don’t needlessly beat yourself up, but accept moral burdens,”–not sure if the distinction was made clearly. I made the turn here:

      Not everything that is “taken” from you merits as much outrage as when you’re starving though. Sometimes we have to suffer a little to right the wrongs of the situation in which we were born.

      I suppose it doesn’t stick out as much as I meant it to? Some editing may be in order.

  2. Pingback: The State of Oppression and the Strategic Refusal of Responsible Parties to Recognize Justice | the fatal feminist

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