On Sin

I’ve found myself talking and thinking a lot lately about the idea of “sin”. I don’t believe in “original sin”, or damnation, but I do think there are moral imperatives. How can this be so? Well, I’ve got a few hundred words to explore that.

I believe in evolution. Maybe it was guided. Maybe it was “destiny”, and maybe it was a freak accident. In any case, I think that humanity is what it is because this is the best we’ve been able to cook up in the course of Natural Selection. We are social. We are flexible. We are egotistic. Part of our existence is balancing the good and bad points of all that we are. As such, morality is based, at least largely, in what makes things better for society and helps the species continue to grow and advance.

This is why I think of sin as being an action, taken deliberately, which harms the advancement of humanity. To me, sin is “that which causes harm or intentionally disrupts society for purely selfish or malicious reasons, or failing to help end such actions when you have the ability.”

Please realize that these are three separate clauses, and causing harm unintentionally is still bad, though simple disruption by accident should be over looked. Causing harm by inaction is still wrong, and no one should feel good about doing nothing in a time of need. Also, please note that I judge only actions. Your thoughts are your own, and to some degree are impossible to control. We can learn to temper them, and we can adjust our attitude, but some things make you happy, and some are annoying; what matters most is how you act on them.

This idea protects both the individual and society; essential freedoms are yours, and most actions can be permitted as long as you are not intruding needlessly on the freedoms of others or the necessary flow of society. Society can be challenged, as long as it is done to goad us into improving what it means to be human.

I think it is important to say that, while this definition rejects simplistic rules like “sex is bad”, it still, takes personal responsibility into account. The damage done by wanton disrespect for partners can be huge; both emotionally and physically. Unwanted pregnancy, STDs, and the distress that comes with feeling used, abandoned or lied to can’t be ignored as acts which harm others.

So, while I have a very liberal view on the idea of sin, I still take it very seriously. My bigger point, though, is that we shouldn’t focus on sin. We should concentrate on doing good. In my theology, working to avoid sin leads to doing good.

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4 Responses

  1. “Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
    –Granny Weatherwax, Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett.

    I have to say that this pretty much sums up where I’m currently standing. Opinion?

  2. It is rare that I disagree with Granny on anything that applies equally to our world and hers, and this is no exception. Still, I don’t think that her statement is all encompassing. I think that her statement shows sympathy for UUA principles 1 and 2, and I happen to know she feels strongly about “the interdependent web of all existence”

    I do see that I might be able to expand on my thought, but not really to change the meaning. I don’t think that every poorly considered action is worthy of the label “Sin”.

  3. So what would you say is the appropriate response to sin. I mean, I accept your definition, but I allow for the fact that most people act and think as they do because of the forces that shaped them. We are a moment in the continuum of humanity, and our “free will” to act for good is often limited.

    • We have laws, some of which I disagree with, but they are, at least in theory, the combined will of the people. The reaction to those laws is to obey them or change them.

      Sin implies that there is a higher authority. The reaction is natural. In most cases, sinning, under my definition, comes with its own punishment. Someone who causes harm is shunned. When we do nothing to mitigate harm being done, then we suffer for the loss.

      Think of it like the “Law of Three”, or “Instant Karma”; If you cause the people around you to have a bad day, how can that not make your own day worse? If you have no compassion for others, how can you expect them to find any for you?

      Still, we should respond to sin when we see it. We should not stand by and let “evil” be done. We should continue to promote the idea of inherent human dignity; we should encourage those around us towards positive growth.

      Again, to do nothing in the face of suffering is a sin in its self.

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