Evil and the possibility of social sin: A theological anthropodicy

Joseph Hugh McKenna, Fordham University


Within theology evil has been addressed principally by theodicy. Theodicy accepts the onus of the problem of evil as God's and therefore defends God in the face of that challenge. However, theodicy can inadvertently undermined a sense of responsibility to redress social evils by making evil appear "meaningful." "Anthropodicy," on the other hand, places the burden of the problem of evil upon humanity instead of God; it therefore solicits active resistance to certain evils. An anthropodicy may be secular or religious. It is religious when religious theory seeks to create in practice an acute sense of responsibility to affect and alter the world's many evils. Such a theory would be a theological anthropodicy. The theory of "social sin" is one such theory. Theories of sin serve to outline the dimensions of human responsibility. That part of evil which is susceptible to human influence constitutes the parameters of human responsibility. Hence, "sin" denotes moral culpability for action or inaction within the purview of responsibility. Due to its inherent irony, however, sin says something positive about human capability: the possibility of sin ironically confirms the possibilities of human nature and human agency. The term "social sin" is relatively new. It is a correlate of "structural evil" and is meant to identify human responsibility for structural, systemic evils. The underdevelopment of the concept social sin parallels the underdevelopment of a consciousness of structural evil. With the unravelling of uncritical conservatism and private piety in the nineteenth century, theology acknowledged the existence of structural evil. It was left to twentieth-century theologians to identify "social sin" in the accommodation to structural evils. However, the term "social sin" had been in use for a decade or more when theologians finally acknowledged that it is a theologically dubious notion. Given the datum of ignorance in the accommodation to structural evil, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible to identify sin. Social sin does become possible, however, through theories of voluntary ignorance. The possibility of social sin suggests the possibility of social conversion, all of which suggests the possibility of actively creating a more just, less evil world.

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Recommended Citation

McKenna, Joseph Hugh, "Evil and the possibility of social sin: A theological anthropodicy" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9324622.