On Sin

A knight prepares to do battle with the seven deadly sins in the “Treatise on the Vices” by William Peraldus, circa 13th century

In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.

Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.

Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.

I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way. Continue reading