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Middle aged heterosexual, WASP male. Semi retired, semi-sane and semi-serious. And endangered species and I'm not going quietly!!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Definition of Sin

Is it a sin or is it just stupid? Most North Americans believe in sin.

Specifically, 87% of North Americans believe there are certain actions that are "almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective." This is how sin was defined in a recent study by Ellison Research (a Christian research firm) of Phoenix Arizona, which sampled over a thousand American adults.

As we might expect, among those who regularly attend religious services, 94% believe in sin, yet among those who do not attend services, 80% still believe in sin. The difference is only slightly more pronounced depending on political persuasion. 94% of conservatives believe in sin, and 77% of liberals also believe in sin. Yes -- even the broad majority of liberals believe in the idea that some things are just morally wrong.

So, most of us believe in sin, to be sure. But many of us cannot agree on specific behaviors and activities that can be defined as sinful. The following table tells the story.

Adultery 81%
Racism 74%
Using "hard" drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, meth, LSD, etc. 65%
Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back 63%
Having an abortion 56%
Homosexual activity or sex 52%
Not reporting some income on your tax returns 52%
Reading or watching pornography 50%
Gossip 47%
Swearing 46%
Sex before marriage 45%
Homosexual thoughts 44%
Heterosexual thoughts about someone to whom you are not married 43%
Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment 41%
Smoking marijuana 41%
Getting drunk 41%
Not taking proper care of your body 35%
Gambling 30%
Telling a "little white lie" to avoid hurting someone's feelings 29%
Using tobacco 23%
Not attending church or religious worship services on a regular basis 18%
Playing the lottery 18%
Watching an R-rated movie 18%
Being significantly overweight 17%
Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity 16%
Drinking any alcohol 14%
Working on Sunday / the Sabbath 14%
Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves 7%
Making a lot of money 4%
Dancing 4%

If we were to rate these behaviors by various religious, ethnic and political groups, or by gender, we would see some wide disparities. For instance, 90% of Evangelical Christians believe getting drunk is sinful, whereas only 35% of other Americans believe it is sinful (the table gives the percentage for all Americans). 92% of Evangelicals believe sex before marriage is sin; all others, 39%. Half of Protestants think gambling is sin; only 15% of Catholics do. Failing to attend church? 39% of Catholics think it's a sin; but only 23% of Protestants.

From the table, we can also see that Americans define sin by degree. 81% believe adultery is sinful, but only 43% think it is sinful to have sexual thoughts about someone other than one's spouse. Compare similar differences between getting drunk and drinking, using hard drugs versus marijuana and gambling versus the lottery.

All of this causes us to wonder -- how do Americans decide what is and is not sin? Presumably, they draw on whatever moral or religious training they have had in life -- which usually has at its basis some sacred text or creed which defines sin. Those who do not subscribe to a faith usually draw on some moral or ethical code at which they have arrived through reason. Even those who claim not to believe in right and wrong have some kind of behavioral standards.

In the face of this, committed Christians proudly point to their Bibles and declare: "This is our definition of sin!" And well it should be -- but the problem here is twofold:

1) While Christians obsess over sin, they have never been able to agree entirely on what the Bible defines as sin. Some point to the Ten Commandments and other selected rules from the Old Testament -- others point out (and rightly so) that the old covenant, including the Big Ten, is obsolete. One needs only to look at the statistics in the above study, broken down by various denominations, to realize that there are huge disagreements among Christians on what constitutes sinful behavior. Further, Christians get downright nasty about it, resorting to badmouthing, shunning, beating, torturing and killing each other because they disagree over (among other things) what sin is. As the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. 330-395) observed, "No wild beasts are so cruel as the Christians in their dealings with each other." This kind of behavior, of course, is not really Christianity. It's religion.

2) The New Testament seems a bit fuzzy on defining sin the way we would like. There is no scriptural passage or destination you can go to that systematically lists everything you can and can't do -- all the behaviors that "annoy" God and all the behaviors that "keep him happy." If there were such a single biblical passage, we could carry it around as an easy reference guide -- or load it into our PDAs. It would be so convenient. Why didn't God give us such a standardized code? It's almost as if our behavior isn't the main priority with him -- and so we're left to figure it out. Just look at the list above -- Smoking? Gambling? Racism? Dancing? Marijuana? Environment abuse? Making lots of money? None of this is specifically defined as sin in the New Testament or anywhere in the Bible.

The solution; Do what you feel is right and just. Try to be a good person!

Allan W Janssen is the author of the book The Plain Truth About God (What the mainstream religions don't want you to know!) and is available at the web site www.God-101.com

Visit the blog "Perspective" at http://Allans-Perspective.blogspot.com



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