Adam Dzialo

Adam Dzialo
Our son, Adam Dzialo, age 30

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whatever Became of Sin?

     In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book which he entitled, "Whatever Became of Sin?".  Earlier in 1960, Thomas Szasz (1960) wrote "The Myth of Mental Illness."  Both psychiatrists bonded in a vaguely similar belief that the pseudo-sciences of psychiatry and psychology do far too much to explain away wrong and evil and that they underplay the role of free will in human interaction and society.
      Conceptually, both would agree that psychology and psychiatry actively obscure the difference between wrong, (mis)behavior, evil and disease  in a quest to help or harm parties to conflict.  By calling people "diseased" or mentally ill or incompetent, these fields of study attempt to deny people responsibility as moral agents.  Have we continued to explain away wrong, bullying, murder, discrimination and a host of evils by maintaining a psycho-social belief that we are solely the product of nature and nurture, devoid of free will and responsibility to our every action.  Isn't it a choice to hurt someone or to be indifferent to their angst?

      Asking whatever happened to sin may appear to be a strange topic in a blog on disability and healing and empowerment.  Nonetheless, the central question directly relates to society's excuse about the lack of full embrace of the severely disabled and their protection.
       Yesterday, I read an article in the Boston newspapers about  a Bridgewater, Massachusetts middle school where three students cornered a special education student in a bathroom.  He was held down and pummeled.  This is in the context of Massachusetts recent anti-bullying laws in schools.  There are no facts in controversy as the incident was recorded on a security camera.  The consequence was a suspension for the three students.  Neither the victim's parent, the school administration nor the police would file criminal charges.  Doesn't an attack on a special needs child warrant an appearance in a court and punishment?  When is an assault not an assault?  When does no one learn a lesson and punishment become a deterrent?  Whatever happened to sin?
       This week in two blogs, readers wrote of the death of an autistic boy in a group home when he was killed by intentional asphyxiation by a worker.  Others there were beaten with sticks and the abuse went unreported.  Whatever happened to sin?
       Several months ago, I posted a blog about rampant unreported abuse in New York groups homes for the severely disabled.  Part of the blog excoriated unions for their protection of perpetrators because of union contract protections.  What ever happened to the concept of wrong and punishment?  Is it possible to rehabilitate those who abuse the most fragile in our society?  I do not believe that rehabilitation is possible nor should it even be an option.  Who will stand up for the disabled?  Unions?
      And then again in Massachusetts we have the Judge Rotenberg Center which houses many people with developmental and behavioral disabilities.  The preferred method of behavior modification:  electroshock to skin areas.  When is abuse not abuse?  Is abuse allowable when it it is a form of behavior modification?  Why have Massachusetts legislators and judges and parents allowed institutional abuse to continue?
       Stories like these are legion and a daily occurrence. Reports surface on a regular basis.  Abuse of children, the disabled, the elderly, the infirm, the group, except the powerful or the perfect, are exempt.  We use the psychology of genetic predisposition and early learning experience to explain away evil.  We use poverty, unemployment, the ghetto, the race, etc to explain away evil acts.  Counseling is too often a response  to wrong doing and it does not work.  Imprisonment often results in high rates of recidivism.  What has become of sin?
       I am not a religious person and do not use sin in a religious sense. I do not believe in a personal god, because a god would not allow this evil to exist.  Sin is an objective act of wrong against a person or humanity.  Sin can be a free purposeful act or an act of indifference to the plight of others.  Can a person have millions of dollars, vacation monthly and have his neighbors be homeless and hungry and not sin?  Can a Massachusetts governor  give raises to his state managers when day habilitation hours for the disabled are reduced  and not sin?  Can a school superintendent provide generous raises to his central office staff and reduce services to students with disabilities and not sin?  Can a student bully another student and not sin?  Can a student bully a special needs student and not mortally sin?
       We, as a society, flee from the notion of objective wrong and work hard to explain why things are the way they are.  Should we, based upon a simple belief in our inter-connectedness simply devote life to overcoming injustice and oppression and simply doing good?  Whatever became of sin?


  1. Secular, free thinking societies are much more tolerant, and much of the time, it works out well for us until we become overly tolerant of bad stuff e.g. beating on a special needs child as you described. I have heard men (and yes, women too) say “she asked for it” when a male friend, family member or associate gets accused of sexual harassment or misconduct or assault, or rape. Unions do not hold a monopoly on being overly protective of their own. Perhaps we hesitate to come down too hard on drunk drivers because it could be (God forbid) us or a family member or a friend who gets pulled over by an overly vigilant and zealous cop dying to make a bust or some honest and responsible police officer just doing his./her job and protecting us from drunk drivers. Call it situational ethics, moral relativism, or whatever, but it gets complicated trying to agree on universal moral norms in a society as ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse as ours. But I agree with you… some things just seem slam dunk wrong to me.

  2. I agree with you, Phil. I hate it when people explain away bad decisions and when they try to justify evil. Sure, our genetic makeup and socialization influence who we are, but we have free will and we are responsible for our decisions. If someone can't be held responsible for his/her decisions then that someone shouldn't be let loose in society.

  3. I am at a complete loss as to why people think five thousand years of civilization can wipe away millions of years of genetic and environmental influence.
    Taking into consideration that 99% of the time those civilizations have been preoccupied with establishing their sphere of influence through the murder of other human beings.
    We are simply not ready to engage in negation of the ego, to finally and fruitfully coexist with others, extending gratitude and true friendship because our DNA has 'survival mode' built in from aeons of struggle against nature.
    We are predators that have conquered and despite our complex and even paradoxical nature, at the drop of a hat revert to instinctual behaviour.

    Every engineer knows also that the more complex the machinery the more likelihood of something breaking down. Couple that with the God-like malevolence we are capable of makes us both incredible creators and perfect killing machines.
    The clash of these two elements will continue to keep the pendulum of dynamic balance in motion, sometimes swinging this way and then towards the other. But always trying to expand and survive.

  4. Richard: Well, I am less tolerant of situational ethics as times goes on...I think that we need less explanation of bad behavior and more slugs with a 2x4. I think my lack of toleration of bad manners is a function of old age.

    Erika: Right on target, again. We are are the same page. I only wish I had more answers.

    Eric: I agree that 5000 years of genetic and environmental programming is a powerful force that has been handed down through the years without great challenge. I was hoping that good and free will can somehow triumph, not necessarily in our lifetime....

  5. I don't know, this evolutionary argument sounds a lot like the excuse man use to cheat on their wives - they are genetically programmed to spread their seed so a monogamous relationship goes against their nature. I don't think we should blame our DNA or genetics for our decisions, it's like saying we don't have a choice and hence we are not responsible for our actions. Even if it took us millions of years to evolve, the point is that we have evolved and we are not mere visceral beings anymore with predatory instincts but moral beings who are capable of telling right from wrong. I agree, we have a survival instinct built into us as well as mechanisms to defend our ego. Yet parents don't automatically reject and abandon their sick or disabled children, rather they chose to care for them, even to the detriment of their own well-being. So if we have the capacity for unconditional, self-sacrificial love, if our moral sense tells us that caring for our loved ones or the needy is the right thing to do, then why can't it be expected from us?

  6. Erica: Yes, we have the accumulated crud from many generations, but we also capacity, choice, free will and the ability to love without condition. That humanity allows us to rise above the ashes.....

  7. The only definition of ' excuse' that I know is shirking your responsibilities, therefore I don't know who is making these excuses but they sound like a bunch of idiots. knowing how our psychology is influenced by programmed reactions has nothing whatsoever to do with believing there is no free will. By the way free will can be used in detrimental fashion just as easily as for good.
    no one can blame DNA for decisions but we must acknowledge that a higher moral standing is simply too costly a luxury for most and we will require a strong argument for people to prefer it over survival of the fittest.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...