We’re experiencing a drought in South Africa at the moment. In some areas it is the worst they’ve had it in 30 years. One town even reported their tap water turning salty because the river mouth has dried up, causing the seawater to seep in. In response to this drought there have been calls from all political and religious persuasions to use water sparingly and support each other where possible, especially in the worse hit areas.
The Muslim community responded as well and scheduled a special congregational prayer for rain to be held tomorrow morning. It is no different to the manner of praying for any other prayer time, but the intent and purpose is distinctly different. As Muslims, we believe that such conditions as drought befall us because of the general level of sin in our communities. Now before you dismiss this as religious hogwash, consider my perspective first.
The subscription to the notion of sinning is not necessarily constrained to religion either, and most certainly not limited to Muslims. So set aside the stigma and think of it as an imbalance in life, and by extension, society. We always think of sins in a transactional way. We assume that the sin itself is what brings the negative recompense, but generally fail to consider the broader context of the environment that sustains such sins. When we indulge excessively, either in good or bad, we tend towards extremism. Such extremism leads to imbalance, which is typically manifested in unnatural conditions that befall us. Extremism, again setting stigmas aside, is when we party more than we reflect, consume more than we contribute, or destroy more than we create. Within this context, I believe, the true nature of sinning is revealed.
Droughts are caused by imbalances in the environment. Destroy the natural balance of an ecosystem and the results will mean the destruction of the ecosystem. Remove the trees that are the lungs of the earth and the earth will cease to breathe. Simple, yet so difficult for most to grasp. More importantly, relative to the point I wish to make, the reasons for this imbalance is what drives us to do the stupid things that we do like destroying balance in favour of imbalance. We party hard because we need to escape, or we need to feel included. The destruction it causes internally, and often to those around us as well, is ignored because we’re distracted by the gratification we feel from the ability to escape or the void that is filled when we feel included.
Trees that are not appreciated for their contribution is quickly consumed as a trivial resource because it holds the promise of wealth. Re-purposing the fertile land to hold a shopping mall or block of apartments that will yield premium returns on our investment quickly dwarfs the need for reason around why the trees should be respected. The excess we indulge in for purposes of wealth creation distracts us from the balance we are responsible for maintaining. Chasing these trinkets leads to excesses, usually sinful in nature, because it goes with the territory. In other words, the sin is just the symptom of a sick society, it is not what makes society sick.
What I am struggling to articulate is that when we hear religious leaders talk about our sins being the reason for the natural disasters we see around us, we automatically assume that it is a specific and deliberate response from God to smite us for our actions, when in fact it’s merely a natural consequence to the imbalance we created. This is just one example of this cycle. Far too often we find ourselves seeking answers in symptoms forgetting to reflect on the causes that landed us in the unfortunate situation to begin with.
The sinless are those that are faultless. They’re the ones that believe that everything untoward that happens to them is not deserved. They believe that the occurrence of misfortune must be imposed and can never be a cause of their own doing. The sinless are the naive, the ingrates, the distracted ones. Those that are not naive, ungrateful, or distracted know that there are no sinless beings around. We all make mistakes. Just because the mistakes are not intended (they wouldn’t be mistakes if they were) doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly immune to the consequences. It’s like accidentally killing someone and then saying I didn’t mean to kill them hoping that that would miraculously undo the destruction that your action caused in the first place.
The state of being sinless exists only in our own minds when we’re in denial. When we stop associating it with religion and punishment, we’ll start seeing it for what it is. It’s a harm we perpetrate against ourselves first, before anyone else. The excess, while being directly harmful to others around us, started eroding the good within us long before we acted on it. The collective imbalance of society is bound to result in an outcome that is larger than the sum of the contribution of each of us. It’s like a snowball effect. One plus one does not equal two in this case, because it often accelerates as a factor of the contribution and not just a reciprocation in equal parts.
The lesson, for me, is simple. Stop harming myself, before I can stop harming others. Stop blaming others for the harm that I impose on myself. The rest will find its own balance. The difficulty in stopping the harm is not due to an inability to stop. It’s due to the unwillingness to give up the gratification that the excess offers us. The less likely we are to give it up in favour of more sustainable means of fulfilment, the more likely we are to reach the tipping point on a global scale. Say hello to climate change.
[I’m too lazy to fully complete this thought process right now]