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sin vs. wrong action.

May 2, 2014

Sin: an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.

Sin requires that there be someone who is sinned against. Divine law is handed down from a deity (or deities). This sort of divine personage is personal, and cares about what people do.. cares enough to command “thou shalt not,” and cares enough to punish those who transgress.

Without such a deity, there is no sin, because there is no one to be sinned against. An atheist might have a moral code, and believe certain things are wrong to do, but the atheist would not believe in sin. The agnostic might wonder whether or not there is a god to be sinned against, and probably not worry about it.

What is the difference between sin and wrong action? And where do I get the phrase “wrong action?” I will answer the second question first. I get the concept of right and wrong action from Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist, but am influenced somewhat by Buddhist teachings.

So, what is wrong action?

Wrong action is doing something wrong, but without sinning against anyone. Wrong action is simply action that brings negative consequences to oneself or others or both. If one believes in the interconnectedness of all things and people, then bringing about negative consequences against oneself is bring about negative consequences against all.

One does not need to believe in interconnectedness to understand wrong action. One need only pay attention to the effects of one’s actions. To be observant is to learn. If one takes a particular action, and is then mindful of the consequence of that action, one can learn what is right or wrong action. Or, one can simply consider the consequences of an action before taking action. We cannot always know whether the consequences of taking action will be bad or good. Sometimes we can be surprised. But when we are surprised, we can learn.

What is the benefit of right action? Positive consequence instead of negative consequence.

What is the benefit of avoiding sin? Same thing.. except.. there is an element of fear involved in avoiding sin – the fear of offending the deity, or impairing the relationship with that deity. And with sin, there is an element of guilt.

The only fear of wrong action is the fear of negative consequence. The only guilt is human guilt. People who don’t believe in any gods can still feel guilty. But, the feeling of guilt is different. It’s letting oneself and/or others down, vs. offending a deity.

It is possible to believe in a deity that is all loving and not at all judgmental.. a deity that is not offended by anything we do. Perhaps this is best. One can have a relationship with such a deity, and not feel like one has sinned. But will believing in such a deity cause one to behave badly, if the deity is not a moral authority? I suppose one could believe in a non-judgmental deity, and still subscribe to the concept of wrong action.

But does anyone believe in such a deity? The vast majority of people on this planet believe in gods or a god that hands down laws, and is very much concerned with human behaviour.

As for me..

I am agnostic. I have no strong belief in any deity that has a name, and that sits in judgment upon humanity. I do believe that maybe some sort of god or gods exist, but that it/they are part of all that is, or that the deity is composed of all that is, or that arises from all that is.

I have no strong belief in a personal god. It is very rare that I pray, and when I do, I just say a prayer to anyone good out there who happens to be listening.. if there be any good spirit or deity.

Since I don’t believe in any law-giving deity, I do not believe in sin. I believe in right and wrong action. I believe in trying to take action that brings about good consequences and avoid action that brings about bad consequences. When I end up doing something that turns out to be wrong action, I feel bad about it (I might feel foolish, disappointed in myself, or sad I caused someone else trouble, for example), and don’t like the negative consequences, but I don’t feel that I’ve sinned against anyone. The word “sin” is not a part of my vocabulary or belief.

For me, believing in right and wrong action, but not sin, takes the pressure off. I allow myself to grow and change and become more wise without feeling guilt or that I’ve offended some divine being. There is far less of a psychological or spiritual weight to carry.

I prefer to think of morality in terms of right and wrong action.


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