Sin and evil

The post on sin (the most recent one) has stirred interest. One respondent feels the word is too negative, though surely the Biblical idea of sin is about as negative as it can get. If sin is tantamount to kicking an almighty creator in the shins, you bet it’s negative. To treat it otherwise seems—from a Christian’s perspective—a massive papering over of its seriousness.

Another asks (facetiously?) whether I think “evil” as well as sin is perpetrated by religions. In a word, no. Evil is a word widely used in non-religious discourse, while sin is largely confined to religious dialog. Sometimes they overlap, most spectacularly in the Golden Rule (no, the Hebrews weren’t the first to come up with it). The problem with sin is that while it does encompass in its meaning a lot of what most people, including nonbelievers, would agree is evil, it perpetrates a great deal of its own. Supporters of slavery were able to search their sin lists in the Bible and find it not only omitted, but arguably supported. Catholics in Ireland did not seem to find mistreatment of “wayward girls” to be a sin worse than the sin it was designed to address.

Religion is a spotty and frequently horrid source for what is evil, though I’ll have to leave the definition of what constitutes sin to those who propose to be spokespersons for a god. If they say lust is a sin, well, it is their word and I’ve no choice but to leave it to them. I am interested in discussing evil (relying on no religious source), but avoid implying any credibility to the intellectually vapid concept of sin. Oh, by the way, I apologize for leaving Judaism off the list of sin sources. Jews beat Christians and Muslims to it, of course, and do not deserve to be left off that particular hook.

It is easy to see that while failing to keep the Sabbath is a sin for Jews, it isn’t evil. Birth control may be a sin to Catholics, but no one would call it evil. A majority of southern Christian churches in my lifetime maintained a “see no evil” attitude toward mistreatment of blacks because, I must assume, they did not see it as a sin (though bikini bathing suits were). What secular humanism does is ignore what supernaturalists assume they can believe into existence, then get on with figuring out what does damage to human beings, converting avoidance of those evils into the negative side (the “don’t do it” portion) of humanist ethics.

By the way, the humanist approach to ethics bears no resemblance to “if it feels good, do it.” Humanism does avoid the petty restrictions that make up much of Christianity’s sin list, so in those instances greater human pleasure and less stultifying guilt are pleasant side effects. Avoiding the pettiness, through history humanism has confronted more momentous matters, ones that Christianity at its best has sometimes finally caught up with. But since the Christian world (and, I assume others) spreads intentional untruths about unbelief, I’ll assume that comment came from a pulpit somewhere inasmuch as lying for the faith is apparently not a sin. In any event I am convinced now that a post in this blog should soon cover humanist ethics. Stay tuned.

About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
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