The Wages of Sin...

Lately I have been thinking of the almost abandoned Christian concept of sin. Sin is not a popular term anymore. In a society whose greatest good seems to be the right of anybody to do just as they jolly well please, uttering the word "sin" conjures up all the adjectives which are most despised in liberal Western democracies: judgemental, narrow minded, uninclusive, self righteous. Sin is a term which seems, to many, to come from some lesser, undeveloped, unreflective religion, and is not to be taken too seriously by more advanced spiritual people, (such as whoever is saying this stuff, for example).  But I don't think you can get very far along a path of spiritual development without a concept of sin. Not sin as some sort of arbitrarily drawn up list of prohibitions, mind you; but sin as a description of a propensity or an attitude of mind. At a certain point in any regime of spiritual practice you will have to face your own humanity and become aware of  those bits and pieces of yourself which are hindering your progress: the bits of you which would subvert, distract, argue, seduce, tempt and betray you away from wholeness. The pieces which prefer the dark warm comforts of illusion to the hard edged clarity of Truth. A basic working definition of Sin is: Anything which keeps me from God. So, for example,  as I struggle in the early morning to settle in the half light and present myself silently to the Divine presence my overwhelming desire to get up instead and make some coffee and browse Google is sinful - or at least, it is a temptation to sin.

Whatever keeps me from God.

Now this may seem a little too introverted and esoteric and precious and hardly worth bothering about, if sin is just about whatever keeps Kelvin from his prayers; and so it may seem until we remember the terrible events in Norway this past week. What makes an intelligent young man commit such an abominable and atrocious act? He sits in court, looking smug and calm, seemingly perfectly at ease with the pain he has inflicted on the 98 people he killed, on the many others he wounded, on  their families and indeed on a whole nation. Who knows? To say that he is mad is a truism, and doesn't help our understanding one bit. No doubt the psychologists will pore over the whys and wherefores for years to come, but my guess is that somewhere sometime long in his past he has made choices; and continued to make choices which have  subverted, distracted, argued, seduced, tempted and betrayed him away from wholeness. He has adopted patterns of thought which have wrapped him in the dark warm comforts of illusion and he has grown so used to them that the hard edged truth of the humanity of of his victims is beyond his knowing - or at least it was  on Friday July 22. He has progressively chosen darkness and illusion instead of light and truth. He has, in other words, sinned and moved progressively further into sin.

We would, all of us,  be justly offended if any comparison was drawn between our own petty misdemeanours and the monstrous acts of Anders Behring Breivik, but while differing in scale and effect, all sins are essentially of the same species, which is, I think Jesus' point in Matthew 5:21-22. Sin is not so much about the individual acts as about the attitude of mind which lies behind those acts; the attitude which sees the truth as an affront to our own self determination and  which would do anything to mask the truth. The Christian tradition is unequivocal about the corrosive and destructive power of sin. Just as rust may show in a small pimple on your car door or in a hole in your chassis which causes the whole car to be towed to the junkyard, so sin may show in seemingly innocuous or in catastrophic ways. Like rust, sin needs to be assiduously watched for, taken seriously, and treated early at each and every appearance.


Richard said…
Navigating on a yacht once I realised that even one degree off course, if maintained and not realised and corrected, would lead to me wrecking the boat. One degree sounds so little, but over a long journey, one can end up very far from where one intended to go. And if we repeat these little 'one degree' variations off course...?
Verna said…
Thank you Kelvin - I read, I hear, I understand - and I examine the myriad of little things which do keep me from a closer walk with God. Finally I have a way of looking at sin which I can do something about.
Roz said…
Hi Kelvin,

I read your latest blog with interest as one who has had an objection to the word sin because it associates in my mind with eternal damnation i think.
From my tradition (Buddhism) we see what you call sin as obscurations of mind, which prevent us from seeing the truth of existence, pretty similar to the outline of sin you have given.

I think we are on the same page!

VenDr said…
We've always been on the same page, Roz. Different books, mind you.