Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: The Joy of Sin (2012) by Simon Laham

The Joy of Sin (2012) by Simon Laham

I’ve experienced moments when people misunderstood me especially from the books that I read. Close mindedness is the enemy of intellectual life. Once I read Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, I was accused as experimenting with atheism; I read Who Speaks for Islam?, some of my students thought that I wanted to convert to Islam; and when I read Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a well-meaning minister questioned my believes in the existence of God and the doctrine of creation (and many other controversial books that I’ve read). I just finished reading The Joy of Sin, do you think it’s because I enjoy sinning?

This book is written from the perspective of experimental social psychologist not from religious authority. As such, the definition of ‘sin’ here is not thoroughly Biblical but ‘sin’ in a sense of human social behaviour. Even so, Simon acknowledges that “we all ‘sin’ and we do it all the time.” (Confirmed what Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans). This book is divided into 7 chapters which follows Pope Gregory the Great’s 7 lists deadly sins that was written in AD 590, entitled Morals on the Book of Job. He writes it for the purpose of “maintaining the social order within [monk] ascetic communities.” For Pope Gregory, these deadly sins can literally lead people to hell. “In psychology,” Simon differs, “pride, lust, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth and anger aren’t considered ‘sins,’ or morally wrong, or even uniformly bad, but rather complex and largely functional psychological states.”

This is the classic example of psychologized sin. Simon continues, “When it comes to the seven deadly sins, the picture is a complex one.” It can be useful and of course it have its downsides too. As for these sins’ usefulness, the author suggest that “the seven deadly sins not only feel great but are actually good for us.” To be fair, Simon focuses is on the ‘good’ sides of each sin and at the same time warned his readers against extremism approached. This book is packed with array of physiological research. From a non-religious view, these sins are just “seven psychological characteristics of the human species.”

In summary, #1 Lust, Laham says, can jolt our creativity; #2 Gluttony can help us to connects with others; #3 Greed breed happiness; #4 Sloth can make us smarter; #5 Anger can make us fearsome negotiator; #6 Envy can actually bolster our self-esteem; and #7 Pride can boost our confident and will to success. “A sinfully delicious tour of human nature that reveals the bright side of our dark side,” comment Daniel Gilbert.

I read this book because I’m interested in how we humans think and behave. I believes that there is such a thing as ‘sin’ because I believe that our morality is define primary by God’s Law not only through our consciousness and social construct. I disagree a lots with how Simon Laham defines ‘sin’ and I also sceptic in how Pope Gregory defines it too. But I learned a great deal about the complexity of sin and why it is so ‘joyful’ to do. To me, reading this book enable me to understand social issues around me (and in Malaysia, generally) from the psychological perspectives.


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