People Prefer Sins of Omission Over
Sins of Commission
They feel their sins of omission will be judged
less harshly by others.
Summary: People are more comfortable committing sins of omission
than they are sins of commission. So says a new study published in
Psychological Science. The reason for this is that people think they will
be judged more harshly if they do something bad than if they just let
something bad happen.
Moral psychologist Peter DeScioli of Brandeis University, who helped
conduct the study, provided the following example: "If a cashier gives
you an extra $20 bill at the register, some people think it's okay to keep
the money, but many of those people would never just swipe the twenty
if the cashier wasn't looking."
Psychologists have thought the differences in the reactions could be
found in how the brain works differently through the moral calculations
involved in the two types of transgressions. But DeScioli and his
colleagues thought otherwise. They suspected people make strategic
decisions based on how others might judge them.
To test this idea the researchers set up an experiment in which people
called "takers" were allowed to either steal money directly from people
called "owners" or to wait for 15 seconds and receive, still improperly, a
lesser amount of money. In some cases, the takers knew people were
watching and judging them. When they knew people were watching,
51% of the participants let the time run out and receive less money as
opposed to only 28% who did so when they thought no one was
watching and judging them. Indeed, the judges were found to be more
critical of those who obtained the money through commission than they
did those who received the money through omission.
DeScioli says their work will help psychologists sort out the relationship
between moral decisions we make on our own and the negative
judgments of people who see us act.
To read the entire article click on SCIENCE DAILY.
Comment: The idea that society judges sins of commission more
harshly than it does sins of omission does make sense. Think of Jesus
and his disciples on the night he was betrayed. We certainly judge
Judas, who made a deal to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and
Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus three times, more harshly than
we do the other disciples, who merely ran away from the site of the
betrayal. Yet, they were all guilty of sinning.
It is usually easier to commit a sin of omission -- we don't have to do
much of anything in those cases -- than it is a sin of commission where
we have to make at least a small effort to do something wrong. Yet, in
God's sight both types of sins are equally bad. In fact, all sins, from
telling "white lies" to mass murder, are deserving of condemnation
because they violate God's commandments for us. "For whoever
keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of
breaking all of it." (James 2:10) "Anyone, then, who knows the good he
ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." (James 4:17)
Just as both types of sins deserve to be condemned, both types of
sins, no matter how serious from an earthly viewpoint they may be, are
able to be forgiven. Jesus took away the sins of the whole world.
(John 1:29) (1 John 2:2) Jesus had to suffer on the cross for our sins
so we wouldn't have to suffer for them and would be forgiven.
(Romans 4:25) (Isaiah 53:5) Yet, this forgiveness which the Holy Spirit
offers everyone through faith in Jesus as our Savior can be rejected.
(Acts 7:51) (Hebrews 4:2) Out of love for God and appreciation for what
Jesus has done for us, let us strive to avoid both sins of commission and
omission, and let it not be said of us that we have foolishly turned down
the gifts of faith and forgiveness and the promise of eternal life in
LSI Blog - Wednesday, March 9, 2011