The concept of sin exists in many religions although it is defined and explained differently in all of them. The concept of sin I am most familiar with is that which comes from Christianity, but even here there are many and various definitions of what it actually is. I could list some references, but a quick google search will confirm what I am saying. When I was thinking about this topic I got a headache from all the references I looked up. I went to the Catholic encyclopedia, various protestant and evangelical sites and of course wikki and dictionary.com. After slogging through all of them I was even more confused than when I started, but I will attempt a quick summary of the common points all these sites make.
Sin is any act or thought which is not in accordance with God’s will or law as defined in the scriptures.
Sin is, or results in, separation from God.
Because of Adam and Eve all humans are born into sin or have a natural inclination to sin and nothing but the grace of God can cure or save them from that state of affairs.
Most but not all crimes and acts of evil committed by human beings are also sinful but many things which are not commonly considered criminal or evil are also sinful.
Now I enjoy having friendly discussions with Christians and in fact there is much in Christianity that I admire and respect, not least the person of Jesus himself. However, on the subject of sin I am adamant; the concept is flawed and in reality there is no such thing as sin! (According to some streams of Christian theology, just by writing that last sentence I have committed a fairly serious sin).
Well by some interpretations of Christianity all people are sinners no matter what they say or do, but I would be a particularly bad sinner because I knowingly and wantonly ignore or flout some biblical laws and teachings. Moreover I sometimes tempt and encourage other people to do the same. As a witch I cast spells, I employ and use supernatural powers and commune with spirits and other forbidden entities. Beyond all that my Pagan beliefs combined with the witchcraft I practice allow me to grow spiritually without any obvious limit other than common sense. I work with my Gods but they are not beyond me, it is possible that in some future life I will have evolved enough to be equal with them. It is not something they fear and neither is it an aspiration I am ashamed of. I hunger for knowledge and will feed all I can. As a woman I use contraception and have sexual relationships with both men and women without being married. I don’t shy away from lust but even feed the fires of my carnal desires with sex toys and pornography.
And I can just imagine some hell-fire and brimstone preacher in the American bible belt standing up and berating me for my sinful nature and calling me an evil daughter of Satan (it has happened before). That same preacher might go on to remonstrate about the utter evil of homosexuality and how we are all going to hell if we allow gay people to marry.
I doubt if that same preacher will get as vexed about the real evils that are going on in Syria at the moment or the “sins” of poverty and hunger which affect so many people in the world.
So here is my take on it. There is nothing at all wrong with having a healthy sexual appetite and satisfying it when you can so long as it is consensual and nobody gets hurt. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with being homosexual, bisexual or transsexual and satisfying your sexual and emotional needs with people of the same sexuality. There is nothing wrong with learning and doing magic, particularly when it is for the benefit of others. Most importantly it is not wrong to be curious and ambitious, to want to know as much as possible and grow as much as you can. In all honesty, if I had been in that Garden I would have eaten the fruit and thanked the one who showed me where it was. And I would have been hungry for more. To me the idea that God forbids us to learn and grow and wants us to remain in a permanent state of ignorant subservience is evil.
The whole concept of sin is false and stupid. More importantly it is dangerously entwined in and confused with concepts of evil.
I do believe that evil exists, not necessarily as a force or divine power in itself, but as an adjective to describe the worst excesses of badness and wrong-doing that we as a species are capable of. The holocaust was evil. Genocide is evil. Cruelty to children and animals is evil. Premeditated murder and rape is evil. What Al Qaeda did on September 11th was evil. Napalming Vietnam was evil. Accusing women of witchcraft and then drowning them or burning them to death was evil.
Recently a UN-backed war crimes court handed Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor a 50-year jail term for arming rebels in Sierra Leone in return for “blood diamonds”.Taylor, 64, was convicted of all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for aiding and abetting Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front during the country’s brutal 1991-2001 civil war. In return, he was paid in diamonds mined by slave labour in areas under control of the rebels, who murdered, raped and kept sex slaves, hacked off people’s limbs (especially arms and hands) and forced children aged under 15 to fight.
Now he was evil. Many of the crimes perpetrated against the Muslims in Bosnia were evil… And so on…
Now if fundamentalist Christian preachers spent as much time condemning some of the activities listed above as they do ranting about the so called “evils” of homosexuality, I might have slightly more respect for them.
Evil is something real and something which, as a civilized society, I would hope we all try to combat. I am not one of those who believes we need evil in order to balance good. I hope for a much less evil world and I think we will still have plenty to occupy ourselves with if and when evil is defeated.
Sin on the other hand is a flawed and convoluted human concept with very little meaning and even less worth. It isn’t a thing, nor is it an adequate adjective to describe anything beyond the bias or prejudice of the person using it. All religions would do better to ditch the concept of sin altogether and concentrate their energies on fighting the real evils in this world.