The Difference between Social Sins and Structural Sins?
Although both social and structural sins share the same nature as having to do with systems and social groups of people in society, Church documents imply that social sins and structural or “structures of sin” are slightly different. Social sins are the sins committed by social agents in a social network, while structural sin is the sinful social situation–the by-product of social sins. In short, social sin refers more to the sinful agency of actors conniving in a social network to commit social injustice while structural sin or structures of sin refer to the unjust social order produced by social sins. Thus, the conspiracy of public official to circumvent the law on public bidding in order earn kickbacks in government contract is the social sin, while the unjust legal structure created by this manipulation in bidding in which private bidders who deserve to win the contract because they offer the lowest bid with high quality product or service and thus beneficial to the government is the structural sin or “structure of sin”. At the losing end are the people who receive low quality but expensive public service or product. If this has to do with public works, it can pose danger to safety to ordinary citizens. Substandard roads and bridges built by winning contractors and their cohorts in government bent only in earning millions of pesos in overpriced contracts are hazardous to life.
Another example of social sin is the so-called “palakasan” (patronage). In job promotion, for instance, only those with strong connections with the top managers can be easily promoted even if they are not qualified in the position. Those who are qualified and hardworking and who deserve a promotion are bypassed because they are not protégés of the powerful. Thus, the sin of “palakasan” is connected to another social sin called the “bata system”. The structural sin or structure of sin here would the highly unjust and biased promotion system in the company.
On paper, laws and policies seem to be just. But in actual social practice, these laws are interpreted and implemented by people–and this where biases and social ties tainted by sinful human tendencies that social and structural sins manifest.
The Role of Law in Social and Structural Sins
Very often structural sins involve the creation of immoral laws by the powerful who controls the status quo. Law has the characteristic of fixing social life and ordering it for the benefit of its lawmakers. The legalization of abortion in some countries, for instance, is the work of law lobbied and supported by people and groups who favor abortion. Individuals as well as public and private agencies and networks affiliated with the abortion industry create a structure of sin fixed by law. From the Catholic point of view, this set-up is immoral though legal. Once a proposed law or bill is approved by the Philippine President and published, it becomes a effective statute or law created by legislative body. And since law, according to critical theory, is hegemonic or has the capacity to sideline other forms of knowledge and norms of conduct including morality, it would then be very difficult for others who oppose the abortion law to change it. This is probably the fear behind why the Church is strongly against the RH or Reproductive Health or Responsible Parenthood Law passed Philippine Congress. Once it became a law, the Church hierarchy fears that some immoral aspects of the law would be fixed in Philippine society.
It is of public knowledge that big business lobby Philippine Congress to pass laws which favor their business interests. They often hire lobbyists and bribe lawmakers directly and indirectly to have their bills passed and signed into law by the President. The Expanded Value Added law is viewed by many people as legalizing an unjust situation in which the poor and rich alike pay the same indirect tax for consuming goods without regard to the difference in wealth and income. The vested interest behind this law can be traced structurally as far as the World Bank which pressures the Philippine government to pass this law in order that the latter can lessen its budget deficit and thus be able to pay its huge foreign debt to multilateral institutions.
The primary duty then for the Christian in the area of legislation is to evaluate any bill filed in Congress whether it is just or unjust, moral or immoral. If it is unjust and immoral, s/he has the moral duty to lobby against its passage in both houses of the legislature. S/he would be doing a great service to the Church and society, if s/e prevents the passage of a law which fixes an unjust situation or social injustice into a “structure of sin.”
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