In Which Maybe I’m Asking What Sin Is

Depending on the time of day, I sometimes like to listen to NPR when I’m driving home from school. Yesterday the host of whichever show was on was talking to one of the leaders of the Sojourners Community, a really interesting organization, and one with which I agree on most things. Anyway, the subject of the interview yesterday was abortion and the Sojourners’ view on it. Their view is that abortion is not going to be made illegal by the government, so why not work with people to lower the number of abortions and try to take away some of the reasons people might have for feeling like an abortion is their best choice. I very much agree with them on this, and I think efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade are misguided at best (even if it was overturned, which it won’t be, abortion would become a state issue and even if individual states make it illegal, which they wouldn’t, a person could just go to another state to get one). What I believe “pro-life” organizations should be focusing their resources on is ways to lower the number of abortions. Better education, more help for mothers, better ultrasound technology and funding, etc. All their screaming and marching isn’t doing anything right now.

But enough of that, that’s not what I really thought a lot about after hearing the interview. What I couldn’t get out of my head was the view of sin a lot of Christians have, and a comparison between feelings about abortion and torture among many modern Christians.

Growing up, if the question was “what is sin?” the answer was always “knowing that something is wrong and doing it anyway.” It’s a simple way to teach a child the basic fundamentalist idea of sin. But how can an answer like that apply to something like abortion? If sin is doing something you know is wrong, what if the doctors or mothers don’t believe that abortion is the killing of a child? What if they don’t believe life begins at conception? If they don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, and sin is consciously doing something you know is wrong, then… maybe we should stop telling kids sin is knowing something is wrong but doing it anyway.

And if that’s what sin is… then what about torture? That’s not exactly something a lot of fundamentalist Christians are up in arms about. Yet…torture seems to be something that would fit right into this definition of sin I used to hear as a kid. Torture is something that people know is wrong. International law says it’s wrong. Our conscience says it’s wrong. Plus there’s that whole troublesome “love your enemies” thing that’s pretty much the entirety of Jesus’ life on earth.

So if sin is someone doing something he or she knows is wrong, and torture is known to be wrong by those doing it, and abortion is not necessarily known to be wrong by those doing it…does our definition of sin need to change, or do we need to be as adamant about the wrongness of torture as we are about abortion, or should we take a step back and think about what we can actually do to reduce the number of abortions (let’s be honest, nobody, not even abortion doctors, want more abortions), or do we need to take a larger view of the world and our place in it, or…

Maybe all of those things.

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4 thoughts on “In Which Maybe I’m Asking What Sin Is

  1. Fred says:

    “does our definition of sin need to change, or do we need to be as adamant about the wrongness of torture as we are about abortion, or should we take a step back and think about what we can actually do to reduce the number of abortions (let’s be honest, nobody, not even abortion doctors, want more abortions), or do we need to take a larger view of the world and our place in it, or…

    Maybe all of those things.”

    I would say all of those things. At one time I would have said all except change our definition of sin, but I think many times our definition of sin is not God’s definition of sin. This would be why some are so against abortion but can turn a blind eye or even approve of torture in the name of “freedom” or whatever. You could also include killing innocent civilians and writing them off as “collateral damage.” We have so joined Christianity to the “American way of life” that we see as sin anything that threatens that lifestyle and as good anything that supports it.

  2. Josh says:

    i definitely agree. i’ve thought for a while that it’s possible that sin is actually just not respecting yourself or others. in other words, it’s not the actual act itself, but the reality of disrespecting what god has made and thus disrespecting god himself. if this is the case then there aren’t levels of sin, disrespect is disrespect, and i think it would radically change fundamentalist views on sin and what’s sin and what isn’t. like for example drinking: my theory would say that drinking isn’t the sin, it’s the drinking so much that you disrespect other people (their space, their sensibilities, their possessions, etc.).

    but i’m still working through that theory, it’s not a sure thing yet.

  3. Fred says:

    Jesus said that all of God’s law is contained in two commands: Love God and love others as we love ourselves. So sin would be failing to do that.

  4. Josh says:

    exactly!

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