Sunday, 18 April 2010

Law and Sin

In reading Romans 7:7-13, I realised just what creating laws actually achieves. Paul argues that without the law, we would be unaware of sin. If there is no prohibition then nothing is sin. A man can act as he pleases because there is no definition of what is or is not acceptable behaviour.

When I look at many of our recent laws, I see that they are designed to redistribute wealth or to define acceptable behaviour. What the tax laws actually so is encourage the search for ways to avoid paying tax. In doing contracting work, I was self employed. Being self employed allowed me to clean business expenses. In order to know what I could claim, I found books that instructed me on ow to maximise my expenses claim and minimise my tax payment.

What I was endeavouring to do was legal but it did endeavour to avoid the intent of the law. The law seeks that all contribute fairly to the costs of public facilities and the the caring of the less fortunate. The promotion of contracting or of being self-employed is to minimise that payment and to maximise what a person keeps for themselves.

In effect the law is causing the opposite of its intent to happen. Having the law encourages people to find ways to nullify the effect of the law.

Another example is the idea that the only law is common sense of respecting the rights of others. When I first went to high school, we were told that the only rule was common sense. The school functioned with few behavioural incidents that led to disciplining action. The students were happy and got on with their studies. A new principal was appointed who believed in rules and discipline. The atmosphere in the school changed. Students who previously didn't have a discipline problem were being called to the principal's office and lectured about their behaviour. The focus of the students changed and so did the behaviour and the achievements.

When I began teaching at a polytechnic, we had discipline problems. Students claimed that it was their right to do things even though it might destroy things for others. In one of the induction sessions, instead of focusing in the rules, I talked of action and consequences, and privileges and responsibilities. The claim to having a right usually meant that the person could do as they pleased. Arguing on rights simply led to more problems. By shifting the focus to self regulation through the consideration of the impact of our actions and the responsibilities that we take on as we gain increased privilege helped the students to reflect on the issues.

It comes back to the axiom “think not of your own interests but reflect on the interests of others.” However, we shouldn't ignore that there are ways of turning self interest into sources of behavioural change.

With cycling, I appealed to the competitors' desire to be able to continue to use the roads for racing. Their breaking of the road code endangered their own lives and the lives of other road users. The consequence wasn't simply the carnage they might cause but the back lash from other road users that could see them banned from using the roads. The result would be that they could no longer do what they love to do. By using the appeal to their common sense and self interest, we achieved a dramatic change in cyclist behaviour.

Being able to turn self interest into concern for others can have consequences that improve behaviour where simply bringing in laws simply encourages further attempts to defeat the law. The law on its own does not encourage the behaviour that we desire. The change in behaviour only occurs when the consequences have an impact on the person's freedom or desires. Remove the desire that drives the behaviour and the law becomes redundant.

The law defines what the sin is. It doesn't foster the change in motivation that removes the desire to sin.

No comments: