By Professor Ronald Paulson
The confusion of sin and evil, or spiritual and ethical transgression, is the topic of Ronald Paulson’s newest booklet. He calls cognizance to the $64000 contrast among sin and Evil (with a capital E) that during our instances is basically neglected, and to the additional confusion attributable to the time period “moral values.” Ranging commonly during the heritage of Western literature, Paulson focuses rather on American and English works of the eighteenth via 20th centuries to find how questions of evil and sin—and evil and sinful behavior—have been mentioned and represented.The breadth of Paulson’s dialogue is big, taking the reader from Greek and Roman tragedy, to Christian satire within the paintings of speedy and Hogarth, to Hawthorne’s and Melville’s novels, and at last to twentieth-century experiences of fine and evil by means of such authors as James, Conrad, Faulkner, Greene, Heller, Vonnegut, and O’Brien. the place does evil come from? What are “moral values”? If evil is a cultural build, what does that suggest? Paulson’s literary travel of sin and evil during the last 2 hundred years offers not just a ancient point of view but in addition new methods of pondering vital matters that signify our personal period of violence, intolerance, and struggle. (20080301)
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Extra info for Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature
The idea emerges that there are incarnations of influence toward sin and evil actions in the world, as in the Seven Deadly Sins who tempt people, taking allegorical form or embodied, on the one hand in heretics, on the other in witches and sorcerers. These helpers of Satan are fiends—Anglo-Saxon féund, the devil or any demon—a person of diabolical wickedness, especially with cruelty or excessive cruelty (“fiendish tortures”)—a term applied to Grendel and his mother. There are those who read the stories of the Fall and the devil literally (from the Genesis serpent to Job to Isaiah and Revelation); then there are those, from Origen on, later from the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment, who interpreted the stories symbolically.
In short, ambiguity, anomaly, and contradiction are to be abominated (according to Douglas, to abominate is simply to avoid). So worshiping a golden calf is an abomination (and worshiping an abomination) as well as a case of disobeying a Commandment. In the case of adultery, the sin is the violation of order and classification; not the rights and wrongs of husbands and brothers. . are all at least recognized as having an existence and a definition that is not incompatible with the social terminology and economy within which they live.
Original Sin was translated into the more secular concept of innate depravity, which Thomas Hobbes could have accepted—the idea that people are basically evil; not that they are suffering evils for Adam’s sin but that they are, as Adam apparently was, basically evil. Though in fact since Adam’s problem was sin, his punishment evil, we have to say that innate depravity, theologically understood, is sin—problems about man’s relation to God—and not evil. 28 E V I L , S I N , A N D WR O N G D O I N G Sin and Morality The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion—these are the two things that govern us.