Tuesday, July 2, 2013


isolated on the trail under the hot desert sun

"Sin" - now there's a word that carries a lot of baggage. If you are a religious person or even if you aren't religious but grew up in some sort of a faith tradition, you were likely indoctrinated about the evils of sin and the righteous judgment that accompanies it.

Like many people, I grew up in a tradition that defined sin as "an offense against God." I was presented with a rather extensive laundry list of various types of sins one could commit (some big, some small) - murder, adultery were in the big category, swearing on the list of less serious sins (but still a sin). 

Since each sin was an offense against God, you were supposed to tell God you were sorry for hurting Him.  Even if you did say "sorry" you might still get punished for your sins in this life, but you would certainly be punished when you died if you didn't say "sorry" - sent to hell.

There are many religious people today from faith traditions of every stripe who continue to understand  "sin” in this way.

There are also lots of non-religious people (especially those who grew up in a religious environment and then left their tradition) who scoff at the way "sin" has been traditionally presented. God, the big bully in the sky who must be kept happy, or else!  God up there with his check-list seeing how and when you have committed sins which determine whether or not you will be qualified for entry into the pearly gates. 

 It all sounds kind of silly to most non-religious people. It all sounds kind of silly to me also.

I personally don't think "sin" has anything to do with making a bullying God unhappy.  Simply put, I think "sin" is a rupturing of relationships.

Everything and everyone has been created as one cosmic, interconnected, harmonious, dynamic relationship. Whenever we deliberately cut ourselves off from relationships and turn to self-interest alone - whenever we allow the ego to dominate, we have "sinned." 

So yes, cheating someone or physically harming another or gossiping about another, or self-centered consumerism are all sinful behaviors because they break relationships. Polluting the air, destroying the oceans with waste are also sinful behaviors because they rupture relationships.

Some superhero God up there doesn't punish us for sin, but sin does have consequences. Since we are created to be in relationship, when we cut ourselves off in order to satisfy our self centered needs, we will inevitably be unhappy and unfulfilled.  But we alone create these conditions and we punish ourselves with the pain of isolation.  

Like many theological "words," maybe we need to simply abandon the word "sin" because it carries way too much baggage with it. I think religious people and religious institutions have to do some serious re-imagining about how to talk about "sin." 

Anyone on a spiritual path needs to come face to face with their own selfishness. They need to reflect on the rupturing of relationships and be engaged in the reconciliation of relationships.  

How do we talk about the importance of maintaining and healing relationships without getting bogged down in the use of the word "sin"? 

For me, this is an important question for re-imagining faith in the 21st century. 

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