Sin - so yesterday?
Well maybe not. Two days ago a truck turned up at a seaport not so very far from where we live. Two hours via a motorway we regularly use. It was carrying a cargo of 39 human corpses. Somewhere along the line these 39 people had been asphyxiated or frozen. People who have paid a lot of money for the privilege. People making a desperate lunge for a place where they thought that life would be infinitely better than where they were. They had taken a high-risk gamble and were near the end of a long trafficking line. Life must have been very bad for them. If they were conscious, they must have allowed themselves to start hoping when they finally set sail for the UK. But their hopes, like those of so many others hoping for a better life, were dashed.
There can be no other word to describe human trafficking. It is simply evil. Evil to regard human beings as mere collateral in the pursuit of money or power. A crime against humanity. Sin almost seems like too good a word for such behaviour and attitudes.
These days, ‘sin’ feels like a rather outdated word. It was common currency among Victorians who responded to 18th century Regency excesses by a rather narrow focus on the condemnation of many types of sexual behaviour. In the 20th century, as churchgoing numbers declined, the use of the word faded. These days we tend to hear it only in church. Once again, the focus is often narrow and focused on the behaviour of others, maybe the LGBTQ+ community or those who seek or provide abortions.
The original word for sin in both Hebrew and Greek has a connection with archery – with ‘missing the mark’. It touches on something profound in the human story. Something about not living up to your own full potential as humans or preventing others from doing so. It’s about treating yourself and other people as less than human in some way.
This latest people-smuggling outrage is a massive, horrendous example of this tendency of human beings to treat others as objects - freight, traffic, merely commodities to be traded - often as sex workers or workers labouring in sub-human conditions.
But the problem is not confined to the sex traffickers. For all of us comes the serious temptation to think of other people, especially those different from us, as less than human – or maybe less human than we are. It reveals itself in our unwillingness to stop and think and listen to people - to make the effort to move away from lazy generalisations about individuals and groups.
And then there are our own commercial habits, where we can benefit as consumers from what is essentially slave work at the end of the supply chain. We can check on whether our purchases are fairly traded. And beyond that we can seek to ensure that in our daily commerce we don’t regard those human beings who serve us in some way – in petrol stations, on public transport, on fruit farms, in restaurants - as somehow less than ourselves. Somebody out there loves them as a daughter or father or cousin.
Let's keep trying to treat other people as centres of human dignity. It would be a sin not to.