Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Don’t be afraid of sin.

What is sin?


Ah yes, that eternal question.  It’s started wars, it’s led to ostracism, and it’s led to countless fights between parents and children. 


In many more conservative traditions, sin is a set of rules.  It is a sin to do X, so you must avoid X.  However, as a liberal evangelical, I take a different view of sin.  Sin is not a list of things to avoid, sin is whatever causes harm.  Everything must be measured against this.  Does having sex before marriage cause harm?  Depends on the situation and the couple.  Does punching someone in the face cause harm?  Yes.  Does punching someone in the face to stop them from attacking someone else cause harm…or does it prevent a greater harm?  Unclear. 


I believe that the approach Jesus took in the gospels supports this interpretation.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to take a different approach on sin, moving from the rule-driven approach of the Torah, to a more philosophical approach.  Not killing moves to not hurting another person.  Not committing adultery moves to not having unfaithful thoughts. 


Now, admittedly…rules are a lot easier.  It’s a lot easier to avoid things than to not cause harm.  What very few people talk about, but which I believe, is that sin also is about obligations.  It’s not just about what you shouldn’t do…it’s about what you don’t do.  Do you not care about other people or show them love?  Do you not tithe?  Do you not avoid products that you know were made by people who were exploited?  Do you not recycle?  All of these things cause harm…but very few people would likely think of them as sins.


Liberals don’t like the word sin.  It scares us; it seems so judgmental and fire-and-brimstone.  Sinners are murderers, right?  Our world is increasingly trying to turn things into shades of gray.  Things are shades of gray, I don’t deny that, but hurting your friends feelings isn’t something that’s regrettably inevitable, and you’ll try better next time, it’s a sin.  It’s not something to torture yourself about, but it’s something to admit to yourself.  Sin is a beautiful concept.  I don’t find it weighs me down, makes me depressed and guilty, rather, it relieves me from those feelings.  See, the kind of “oh, I shouldn’t really have done that” leaves me in a state of uncomfortableness, some guilt mixed with cognitive dissonance and uncertainty, but a sin…that’s something you can face, and facing it can be a lot more liberating than ignoring it. 


I remember a time when I felt like the decisions I was making were in this constant state of gray.  I did not know what was right.  I felt so bad about myself, but I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was actually wrong.  I had an epiphany one day.  Whether or not it was wrong wasn’t the point, but I was doing something that I wasn’t morally comfortable with, I was causing harm to myself.  As soon as I admitted that, I was able to ask God for forgiveness and then ask it of myself.


Sin is often a road to peace, because it is a means of being accountable to one’s self, to the people around you, to the people you haven’t even met, and to God. See, the beautiful thing about sins is that once asked, forgiveness is always given.


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Who just had a mental twitch?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Some sort of instinctual reaction of disgust after hearing the words?  Let’s admit it.  We all know that they’re important and that they are a necessary point of discussion on all levels of government and business and even personal lives.  But we’re all really sick of them at this point.   What with all the shouting and the name-calling and the endless arguments over the budgets that fill our newspapers, our news broadcasts, our Insert Your News Outlet of Choice web browsers, and even our personal conversations…most of us, I think, are fairly drained with all of this bickering (and probably secretly—or not so secretly—wish the issue would just disappear), I just thought that we should all admit that before we went any further.


We’ve all heard pundits talking about “values issues”.  “Values issues” tend to be the issues of the infamous “values voters”.  Some examples of what people see as values issues: gay marriage, abortion, condoms in schools, stem-cell research, et cetera.  However, one thing that people don’t often see as a values issues is one of our largest issues in the political debate: budgets.


It was several months ago, while reading an article on economics, that this idea was first put in my mind, that a budget is a set of values.  Where we put our money is our way of expressing what is important to us as a nation, as a family, as an individual, as a town, as a state, or as a company.  If someone took our budget and looked at it, what would that reveal about us?  And more importantly, what do we want our budgets to reveal about us?


The entire budget discussion is looked at in different terms when it’s seen as a declaration of values.  What does it say about our country if the first thing that we cut from our budget is aid to people who are struggling to feed their families?  What does it say about our priorities when subsidies are put in for oil companies and money for environmental clean-up and regulation is taken out?  What is important to us as a nation?  What is it that we care about?  And what is important to us individually or as families?  What would someone think if they knew your budget?  What would that tell them about you?  What do you want your budget to tell them about you?  And what do we want our budget to say as Americans?  In a way, our budget says more about our American values than any opinion poll or statistic.  I’m not going to argue what should or shouldn’t be in someone’s budget, or in government budgets, because the entire point is that it should represent your values and we all have different ideas about what that should be.  Looking at our budgets as statements of values can often help us make decisions about what we want to cut back on, what do we want to add in, and it starts to transform the way we look at budgets.  Such as, well yes we have money allocated for insert issue of choice in our budget, but in relation to the overall budget do we think that’s representative of how important that issue is to us?  What we spend our money on, and how much money we spend on each thing, is inherently as much a values issue as anything else.


So as we sit down to our personal checkbooks or as our lawmakers continue to debate where our money should be spent, we should think about what we want our budgets to say about us, about our values, and factor that into our decisions.

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