Dis­obe­di­ence is the first sin

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - LAU NAI- KE­UNG The author is a mem­ber of the Com­mis­sion on Strate­gic De­vel­op­ment.

Re­mem­ber, eat­ing an ap­ple is a sin; break­ing Hong Kong’s law may not be a sin. Keep this in mind, and bear with me on more bunkum that fol­lows. The Catholic dio­cese pub­lished a state­ment ti­tled “An ur­gent call for earnest dia­logue and re­spon­si­ble ac­tion” on the front page of its weekly Kung Kao Po and Sun­day Ex­am­iner news­pa­pers re­spec­tively on July 23, com­ment­ing of­fi­cially and di­rectly for the first time on the pend­ing “sum­mer camp” next year.

While the ti­tle looks rather in­no­cent and unattrac­tive, the sub­ti­tle is much juicier. It reads: “Re­gard­ing univer­sal suf­frage and civil dis­obe­di­ence”. Putting them side by side, one may be tempted to en­ter­tain the thought, naively, that the dio­cese is ask­ing the “Oc­cupy Cen­tral” prac­ti­tion­ers to be re­spon­si­ble. In fact, the op­po­site is true. The sole pur­pose of the state­ment is to give the cam­paign a green light, so that Catholics in Hong Kong know that they can still en­ter heaven af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in this ac­tion.

“It ap­pears that the ‘Oc­cupy’ move­ment cur­rently be­ing or­ga­nized by some lo­cal peo­ple, as a form of civil dis­obe­di­ence, has come about pre­cisely as a con­se­quence of the above and other re­lated con­cerns which must be se­ri­ously and re­spon­si­bly ad­dressed by the au­thor­i­ties and by all who have a stake in the fu­ture of Hong Kong,” the state­ment reads. Not ex­actly a “think twice” kind of cau­tion­ary note, is it?

Vicar Michael Ye­ung Ming-che­ung was even more ex­plicit. Ex­pand­ing on the mean­ing of the state­ment, he said: “I be­lieve it is not a sin to join the ‘Oc­cupy’ cam­paign. It is only an ex­pres­sion, though law-break­ing, for civil rights. If any peo­ple, from or­di­nary Catholics to priests, are pros­e­cuted for join­ing the cam­paign, the church is obliged to of­fer sup­port.”

Ye­ung’s men­tion of sin is mind-bog­gling. It is com­mon sense that the Catholic con­cep­tion of sin has lit­tle to do with crime as we know it, and there­fore it is not clear why “not a sin” can be used as an ex­cuse for the church’s in­ter­ven­tion on sec­u­lar af­fairs. Here is a def­i­ni­tion ac­cord­ing to the Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church: “Sin is an of­fense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ Sin sets it­self against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is dis­obe­di­ence, a re­volt against God through the will to be­come ‘like gods’, know­ing and de­ter­min­ing good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of one­self even to con­tempt of God’. In this proud self-ex­al­ta­tion, sin is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to the obe­di­ence of Je­sus, which achieves our sal­va­tion.”

Dis­obe­di­ence is re­peat­edly men­tioned in the Bi­ble as the cause of sin: “Sin en­tered the world through the first man and spread to all his off­spring — this hap­pened by Adam sin­ning. Death is a re­sult of sin, it was the re­sult of sin. Both were a re­sult from his dis­obe­di­ence in eat­ing the fruit of the tree.” (Acts 17:26)

The Catholic con­cep­tion of sin can get very tech­ni­cal, but sins and worldly crimes only over­lap to a limited ex­tent. The Church main­tains that seven vices in par­tic­u­lar lead to break­ing one or more of the Ten Com­mand­ments. Th­ese par­tic­u­lar bad habits are called the seven deadly sins be­cause, ac­cord­ing to Catholi­cism, they’re mor­tal sins — sins that kill the life of “sanc­ti­fy­ing grace”. If you have watched the movie you know they are pride, envy, lust, anger, glut­tony, greed and sloth. If the mean­ing of th­ese words in Catholic-ese re­sem­bles English even re­motely, we are all sin­ners, in­clud­ing the ma­jor­ity of the Catholics.

On the other hand, pee­ing in pub­lic may not be a sin, but it is against the law. When it is also an act of con­science di­rected at pre­vent­ing or re­mov­ing grave in­jus­tice and/or vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal rights (such as the right to re­lieve one­self), would the church also give the man a hand and sanc­tify his act of “civil dis­obe­di­ence”?

The bot­tom-line is: Adam’s dis­obe­di­ence was also non-vi­o­lent. His act was anti-au­thor­ity. His right to eat­ing an ap­ple would have been pro­tected by what is known later as the right to food — the “fun­da­men­tal hu­man right” de­rived from the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Eco­nomic, So­cial and Cul­tural Rights. To be con­sis­tent, why don’t the Catholic Church clear Adam’s name first?

Lau Nai-ke­ung

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