Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Priest, the Witch and the Nature of Sin

One thing that virtually all Christians can agree on is that God hates sin.  From the fire and brimstone crowd fully expecting God to smite the heathen to the kinder, gentler "love the sinner" crowd, everyone agrees that God "hates the sin".  All this unity tends to fall apart when you ask the next logical question, what is sin?

Well if you go by the way it's used in conversation sin is almost always something sexual, most likely homosexuality.  When you hear someone talking about how Pastor X isn't afraid to call sin sin or how Church Y doesn't compromise on sin then they never mean gluttony or depriving widows and orphans of justice.  It almost always means extramarital sex and usually gay sex*.

But maybe I'm being unfair here.  Maybe a better place to look for a definition of sin would be in church doctrine.  Here sin is described as falling short of the will of God, the refusal to follow God's plan, opposition to God, something that alienates man from God.  Sin is disobedience to the Commandments of God or as 1 John 3:4 puts it, "sin is lawlessness".  Sin is wickedness and evil**.  The problem with all those definitions is that they are all frustratingly vague and prone to loopholes.  That's why, if you but a dozen Biblical scholars in a room you will probably end up with 15 different interpretations of Scripture and at least 4 new denominations and one new sect...

So no, I don't find Christians or Christian dogma particularly useful for a good, useful definition of "sin".  Instead I found what I consider to be the perfect definition in the writings of an Agnostic fantasy writer.  In Terry Pratchett's book Carpe Jugulum, you will find the following conversation between Mightily Oats (a priest) and Granny Weatherwax (a witch) on the nature of sin:

"And that's what your holy men discuss, is it?'
'Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example.'
'And what do they think? Against it, are they?'
'It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of grey.'
'There's no greys, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.'
'It's a lot more complicated than that-'
'No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts.'
'Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-'
'But they starts with thinking about people as things. . .' "

Now THAT is a useful definition!  Sin is treating people as things.  Easy to remember, easy to apply and as a bonus, very hard to find a loophole in!  Abusing, exploiting, degrading, deceiving people are sins because it can only be done by treating other people as things for you to use for your own gratification.  See?  This works!  Well it works for all the actual sins, not so much the bogus ones and I'm fine with that.

*Worst sin of all?  Extramarital gay sex!  Though I guess you could totally fix that by legalizing gay marriage...

**But the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) which may explain why the Catholics didn't take child molesting priests all that seriously - after all, raping a child has no root in the love of money so how could it be evil?

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