Concepts of sin
An overview of many religions' beliefs about sin
Apparently conflicting quotations on sin:
Although these quotes appear to be in conflict, it is possible to harmonize them -- and other apparent conflicts in the Bible.
Sin is a big topic, and an important one!
It is a key foundational concept in many religions. Sin is a major theme in the Bible and in the religious texts of other faiths. For example:
Conservative Christianity deviates little from historical Christianity on matters of sin. However, secularists and followers of present-day liberal Christianity often find their beliefs in conflict with biblical passages and traditional Christian teachings. They find many biblical passages about sin difficult to understand or comprehend; they violate modern religious and secular concepts of morality and ethics.
Sin, salvation, and the afterlife as viewed by different religions:
Christianity, and other Western religions, have historically taught that most people will spend eternity in Hell after they die:
Within Islam, a very few behaviors -- e.g. being a martyr in the defense of Islam -- guarantee that a person's sins will be forgiven and that they will achieve Paradise after death. Some other behaviors will guarantee that they will be sent to Hell. But, for most believers, entrance into Paradise is dependant upon their belief in God and his messengers (Surah 57:21), and upon having committed a preponderance of good deeds while on earth (Surah 2:25 and Surah 4:57). Thus, Muslims are generally not at all certain of their fate after death.
Many Eastern religions view sin very differently. Sin is viewed as an error caused by inadequate knowledge. Many teach the concept of Karma. This is the total effect of the good deeds and sinful behavior which each person accumulates during their lifetime. These religions generally teach that, after death, one's soul enters a new body in order to live a new lifetime. The nature of a person's next reincarnation, and whether they will be reincarnated into a human or animal body, will be determined by their accrued Karma at the time of their death.
Many Newagers, Wiccans and other Neopagans have incorporated belief in Karma into their religions. However, most believe that the impact of sin and of good deeds only extend to a person's present lifetime. Many Neopagans tend to define sin in terms of actual harm done by one believer to themselves or to other people. Many believe in the Threefold Law by which the universe functions in a way that returns any harm that a believer has done to others, increased three times in severity. This heavily motivates them to not attempt to harm, injure, dominate, manipulate or control others.
About changes in the concept of sin over time:
Many parts of the Bible -- particularly the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) are difficult to understand today. For example:
On a positive note, the Bible documents many instances of major painful realignments in Jewish and Christian concept of sin. Some were sufficiently radical to qualify as paradigm shifts. Among the most important of these were:
Studying how these shifts were handled might help us determine which side we should support in current conflicts. At least, it may give us some tools that will help us accomodate change.
About the transferability of sin:
Most religious individuals and secularists believe that a person is responsible for their own sinful behavior. They might point out that in a just society if one person commits a crime, only that person is punished. The criminal's relatives and neighbors are not blamed. Persons who happen to be of the same nationality, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, skin color, etc. as the criminal are not blamed.
However, both the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) contain a surprising number of passages in which the sins of one person -- and the resultant punishment -- are transferred to others, who are innocent of the sins. More details.
A second point of difficulty that some religious liberals and secularists have with the Bible and traditional Christianity is determining who or what was sinned against. Many tend to feel that the person who suffered from another's sin is the prime victim. Lesser victims may be that person's family, friends, and perhaps community. However, in many biblical passages, the sinner is described as sinning against the victim, against society in general, against the land itself, and/or against God. The Bible relates how the earth itself can become polluted as a result of sinful behavior.
Difficulties exist also with the beliefs and rituals of Christian denominations. Many faith groups believe that infants are born guilty of original sin. Some faith groups believe that this sin is wiped away at the time that an infant is baptized. The child, of course, has no control over whether they are baptized or not; she or he has no input into the ritual. Some religious liberals may ask how words by one person can eliminate the sins of another. Some ask how -- without any input from the child -- could the sins of one infant be forgiven, while the sins of a child belonging to a non-believing family are not.
Sin is definitely a fascinating topic, with many complexities to sort out.
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