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Question 41

Hi Father What effect do external factors have on a person's blameworthiness regarding sin? We live in a world where wars, ruthless and corrupt governments, corporations and even people personally wreck havoc on the lives of others. For, example a person who was abused may end up becoming an abuser. A person in extreme need may turn to crime or prostitution. It's also believed that genetic factors may be responsible for a person becoming a homosexual. In addition we also have people who are psychopaths and who have no remorse in inflicting harm on others. Sin or amartia is a failure to live according to the will of God. I'm not merely referring to people subject to various passions such as lust or greed, which must be fought against, but to genuine victims of circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes even severe depression may result in a person having an altered sense of reality and he may commit certain acts which he wouldn't ordinarily commit. Christ even went so far as to say that on the day of judgment, man will render account for every careless word uttered. Can external factors negate a person's free will in certain circumstances and excuse them from certain sins? To put it differently, will Christ who is all wise, omniscient and a loving God take one's personal and above all external circumstances into account on the day of judgment?     



Answer to Question 41


 I think it is a fact that external factors like where we live and how we grow up influence they way we think. If someone is born with a silver spoon in his mouth and brought up in palaces he will probably grow up thinking he is above the average man with a good education and having been accustomed to getting what he wants at the snap of his fingers. On the other hand someone born in the slums rarely receives a good education; he will grow up tough usually having to fight for his survival and because his environment is steeped in crime, he also will probably grow up with crime as a normal way of life.   Social factors definitely influence how we act and what we consider as sinful behaviour.


But our biological makeup can also have a profound influence on our lives. Hormones have a great impact on our sexual drive. When it was discovered that both male and female hormones circulate the bloodstream of both sexes, it was speculated that an effeminate man simply had too many female hormones. However, such a theory would not explain the muscle-bound weight lifter who sexually prefers men to women. Obviously, his problem is not a lack of male hormones. Scientists who have run extensive tests on male and female homosexuals have found their hormonal level to be the same as heterosexuals. However, other scientific evidence shows that there are biological factors involved which attribute 20% of sexual orientation to genetic factors and the other 80% probably to social and emotional elements. Thus for many homosexuals of today it is not something they were born with but a learned behaviour influenced by the society they grew up in.  


We need only look at our lives and see how the world has changed since the Second World War until our present day. There was little outside influence on peopleís lives other than the newspapers and the radio and religion still played an important role in society. But that is not to say that people were sinless or had less passions; people have always had the same passions from the beginning of the world, but when these passions are not talked about or are not brought out into the open they stay secret and dormant because society sees them as taboo behaviours.


 Today our lives are ruled by so many outside influences that make so many images in our minds that itís surprising that we are still sane. Television, the scientific explosion of the 60s and 70s which questioned the existence of God and brought about the abandonment of moral behaviour, the Internet, social media, societies acceptance of sexual preferences or alternative lifestyles, have all played a part in broadening our knowledge, but at the same time have blinded us to the definition of sin and to the will of God.  


In answer then to your question if external factors can negate a personís free will and excuse him from certain sins I would say that we still have a free will and are responsible for how much we allow these external factors to influence our lives, but we are not all expected to live in secluded monasteries and must live in the world where we cannot totally escape theses influences on our lives, and I sure that Christ the all wise, omniscient and loving God will take all these external circumstances into account on the day of judgment?  


I cannot remember who but a certain saint said that we of the last days will not be judged as harshly as the people from past generations because no other generation has had to face so many and overpowering temptations and because of this God will require less from us. Also that the saints of our age will be glorified more and above the saints of the past.