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How to do the right thing, for sinners like you and me

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Growing up in a culturally mainstream (but non-religious) family, sinning wasn’t something I thought about much. It was something the church people dealt with and talked about.

But I did sin and still do. I now see myself as someone who sins on a regular basis, and I’m working on that.

The word means something different for me than it does in contemporary culture. As a child I learned (and you probably did too) that to sin is to do something really bad. If you look it up you’ll find it usually refers to a violation of a religious code of conduct.

So by this definition if you’re not religious, you can’t really sin, because you have no religious code of conduct to violate.

But I still think it’s a useful concept to the non-religious. As I’ve mentioned before, I think religions are essentially self-improvement methodologies that have lost track of themselves. They’re philosophies and mythologies meant to help us navigate human life in such a way as to cause the least harm possible, to ourselves and others. [For a more thorough explanation of why I think so, read this.]

Christianity’s infamous “Seven Deadlies”, for example, aren’t different in purpose than Buddhism’s prohibitions of sexual acts that cause harm, or lying, or stealing. They are all clear warnings that certain categories of behavior lead almost invariably to suffering for you and others, and so if you’re not into suffering you might want to avoid doing those things. The well-defined sin exists to create a red flag in your mind when you’re about to do something harmful. They can be pretty helpful, as a tool for becoming a better person.

The word got a bit loaded somewhere along the line though, and the S-word became a word to use almost exclusively in indictments of other people, as I’ll explain. Sinners!

It’s becoming more commonly known that the word sin derives from a word that meant “to miss the mark.” Not to do something bad per se, but to make a mistake. In modern terms, maybe the closest phrase to the original meaning of sin is “to fuck up.”

It doesn’t have to have such dire moral baggage strapped to it, even though it does imply that you’ve done something that causes harm. And whenever we cause harm, you could say there is a moral issue at play somewhere. Morality is nothing but the consideration of the harm caused by a particular action, right?

But I think instead of regarding sins as something “against the rules”, which we’ll be punished for (by Whoever or Whatever invented these rules) it’s more useful to think of sins as moral transgressions against ourselves

Everyday sinning

We all cause harm in the way we live, particularly to ourselves. We overreact at the same everyday things, to nobody’s benefit. Traffic, long lineups, certain people’s habits. We procrastinate even when we’ve learned again and again that it’s so much easier just to roll up our sleeves and do it.

That is a very human thing to do, to harm yourself senselessly. I wonder how other animals do so little of it. Since the idea of sin arose as a response to the obvious tendency for human beings to cause harm, once we drop all of its religious baggage, we can use the concept of sin in our own lives to recognize those instants when we’re about to do the dumb thing, the bad thing, the lazy thing, the self-defeating thing, and do something else instead.

Each of our lives is different, and so our typical sins are different too. Some of my most common sins are:

  • putting things off when there is no intelligent reason to
  • backing away from interactions where I risk social pain (like rejection or awkwardness)
  • indulging in gratifying, zero-risk behavior that offers no long-term benefit (such as open-ended web-surfing sessions)

Maybe your sins are:

  • opening the fridge when you’re bored
  • giving your partner the silent treatment when you’re frustrated about something
  • leaving dishes in the sink when you go to bed

Sins tend to undermine attempts to improve yourself, to change patterns, to escape cycles. Being aware of where the sin occurs in your behavioral cycles is like finding the slip-joint in the ring, the one place you can yank yourself free and avoid going around again. Knowing your sins is fertile ground for huge breakthroughs in life.

Traditional religious sins try to reduce all these specific self-defeating behaviors into much broader, one-word categories of no-no behavior, such as “greed” or “pride” but those don’t give us enough clues as to how else to go about things. I think if we want to make real changes in our lives, and sin less often, we need to get more specific, and more personal.

Who the Devil really is

I know that one of my perennial sins is convincing myself that I can work out tomorrow instead of today. The reasoning is always the same slippery lie — my daily workouts are short and intense, and I could definitely do two in a day, so I can reasonably skip today’s and do it tomorrow. Of course, the next day I feel like avoiding it again, and it’s twice as tempting to avoid, because I have to do two not one. So I’m off the wagon.

It’s almost like there is an evil part of me in there somewhere, a trickster trying to undermine all that is good and virtuous. It’s not unreasonable to want to give this trickster a name. How about “Satan?” He tricks me and makes me sin. Sometimes I believe he isn’t there at all, and that’s when he’s most dangerous.

It should be obvious that it would be easy to project a religious narrative onto all of this. You could regard the fearful, deceptive part of your mind as the Devil. You could regard the virtuous, intuitive, noreactive part of your mind as God, and you could see your personal struggles as a conflct between good and evil.

Sinning causes us to experience the same pain repeatedly, locking us in a cycle of pain which manifests itself in people’s lives as Hell. The Hell of addiction, the Hell of self-loathing, the Hell of procrastination.

Hell is what you create when you sin. It’s not a place you go once you die if you ended up with a bad score in life. I’m convinced that personal, self-created cycles of suffering were all that Hell was ever supposed to be, by the sages who wrote our religious scriptures. And if you’ve ever experienced the agony of writhing in a cycle of life’s great pain (you have) then you know it’s Hell enough.

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable picture to paint, these mythological narratives, but then we run the risk of cartoonifying the whole thing, making these helpful concepts into concrete entities that supposedly fight outside of us in the world at large.

But even if that war were real, the only point of influence you have in that war — and therefore, the only point of concern for you — is how you conduct yourself. And that’s all religion was ever about. The names, the events, the fables, the creation stories — all of it is only allegories and stage-setting to help a human being understand how to live without falling into Hell.

In other words, viewing sin as anything but a concern for your conduct is an escape chute away from personal responsibility. You can take the spotlight off of yourself, off of the suffering you are creating, by concentrating on faults in the behavior of others.

And that lends us an extraordinary sensation of relief — to be able to feel “okay” with yourself for once, because you see that someone else is sinning much worse. Think about it. All of us have been trying to get ourselves to do certain things forever! It’s a lifelong battle, and we don’t get many breaks, except when we preoccupy ourselves with the mistakes others are making.

It’s far easier, and far more appealing, to rag on the “sins” of others than it is to concentrate on overcoming our own demons, and I think somewhere along the line that became a more prominent theme in spiritual practice than did self-reflection and self-development. Sin became about judgment, rather than personal growth.

Know your sins

Religions all have their list of sins. There are certain behaviors that appear to be unwise ones — universally — for anyone who doesn’t like suffering. Greed, laziness, envy, lust, fury, and so on. You know what they are. And they are true, generally. Most people are prone to hurting themselves and other people by indulging in greed, envy, lust, gluttony or the others.

The problem is that they are too general, and there’s no clear point at which to apply them to your behavior. When I go anywhere where there are a lot of people on a hot summer day, I’m going to see dozens of gorgeous women wearing halter tops and short shorts. I am going to experience lustful feelings. Am I sinning? Am I hurting myself or others? Where’s the danger? What am I supposed to do?

Perhaps there is some danger there (especially if there’s a beer tent.) I could make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe by staring at cleavage. I could step on someone’s toes by hitting on an unavailable woman. I could lose my wits and get drawn into an impulsive sexual encounter that causes enormous suffering for my girlfriend or wife. Clearly it’s worthwhile to acknowledge the forcefulness of lustful feelings and learn how to make sure I don’t cause any harm in response to them.

But if the sin is prescribed to me by a holy book as simply, “Lust” then there’s no accounting for how I might respond, given that the danger seems to be everywhere. In some cultures, the men insist that the women not be allowed to show their bodies at all, otherwise they are provoking sinful behavior. So they must wear cloth bags outside.

This is insane, and it’s what happens when the idea of sin leaves the sphere of personal responsibility and reflection, and becomes an instance of dogma — where all reflection on why is deemed to have been dealt with centuries ago. Self-inquiry about how one ought to live should never be considered “over with.”

“Knowning my sins” in this case might mean knowing that flirting with someone might be okay, but unprotected sex is definitely something that risks harm to myself or others. If I’ve made that transgression in the past, I should reflect on exactly where I might feel that temptation to sin, and what I would do instead.

The sins each of us are susceptible to are going to be different. For you it may be hitting the snooze nine times and skipping your morning meditation. For me it may be surfing Reddit while I drink my morning coffee, instead of making a lunch to take to work.

Each sin has a moment of truth wherein you have a chance for redemption. Instead of hitting the snooze the second time, you sit up and get your feet on the floor before the Devil takes over. Instead of clicking one more interesting/infuriating link, I snap the laptop shut, and go get out the tupperware.

I don’t suggest sitting down and attempting to inventory all your sins and then making a list of “Fred Smith’s sixteen deadly sins.” You need to be able to recognize them as they’re happening. You need to know what it feels like to be in that moment when you could do the wrong thing, again.

You need to decide what you’re going to do instead. Once you do, to get yourself to do it, you just have to move your body in spite of what you feel like doing. Sit up, get your feet on the floor.

Knowing what you need your body to do in that moment is crucial. Then you have to just throw your body into it and get the moment of temptation behind you, or the Devil will descend on you. In the moment of truth where I notice I’m trying to convince myself to delay my workout, I know I need to take my pants off, move the coffee table aside, pick up the kettlebell and start warming up.

Move your body before the Devil does, and never let him convince you that you aren’t a sinner too.


Photo by Isidr Cea


Vilx- May 21, 2012 at 2:40 am

And thus I forced myself to close Raptitude and return to work. XD

yliharma May 21, 2012 at 6:44 am

XD I had the same thought

David May 21, 2012 at 8:41 am

Raptitude is not a sin!

yliharma May 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

but procrastinating boring work to be done to read Raptitude…? :D

David May 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Should only take ten minutes… time well spent if you ask me ;)

Just don’t click over to facebook after.

Laxman May 21, 2012 at 6:58 am

A simple manner by which one can be aware to ones Sins in the present moment. A conscious effort I’m sure will help us move our body before the Devil does.

Alex Smith May 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

Reading your texts makes me feel enlighted! I *just* need to learn how to put this things to work. :)
Sure this is all about myself.

Locate Groundwater March 9, 2014 at 9:43 am

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Liv May 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

Really well timed post for me. I had a grip on a lot of my ‘sins’ early on in the year, now i’m hitting the snooze button 5 or 6 times instead of studying etc. Going to be far more aware of that moment of truth tomorrow. There’s always that moment for redemption. Hopefully I’ll stay strong enough to do it.

Doug Ross May 21, 2012 at 9:01 am

One commonly accepted definition of sin is missing the mark. All desires are good in their pure form but get perverted by whatever circumstance or culture or time the person is in. As you have regularly said, there is much more here for all of us in ordinary mystery of the here and now. That is the mark..when we don’t achieve it, we miss the mark. Thanks

Donna May 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

Realizing that I am a sinner (I have and will miss the mark) is key I think. On the issue of lust. Does it do harm to yourself or another if you reduce them to eye candy? Is there a value in learning to see past the physical characteristics (could be negative or positive to us)? Once seeing that we are prone to miss the mark, is there such a thing as grace? I believe that when we open ourselves to see ourselves a bit from the outside, honestly, we enter into a Presence. I think that is what religion has sometimes failed to inspire, but not always. Neither, in my opinion, does religion control it.

David May 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm

>Realizing that I am a sinner (I have and will miss the mark) is key I think

This is all “being a sinner” ought to mean — that you are human and therefore you err. It is such a shame how many people have been taught that they are bad or unworthy through the use of a concept originally meant to help people not suffer.

Vilx- May 22, 2012 at 2:15 am

Reminds me of the latest talk that Brené Brown gave in TED (http://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown.html). She distinguished between guilt (“I did bad”) and shame (“I am bad”). According to her, the former makes people improve themselves, while the latter spirals into a cycle of depression and even worse misdeeds. I highly recommend viewing the two videos, preferably in chronological order.

Suresh May 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

This is a wonderful article. So basically all religions and spirituality stuff were once guidelines to help us live happily and freely with minimum suffering but not have become totally screwed up due to centuries of misinterpretations.

Gustavo | Frugal Science May 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I wish you were right; David, but I think you nailed only half of the story there.

Sin produces two devastating emotions in humans: guilt and shame.

Guilt is easy. Guilt is when you feel bad because you DO THINGS wrong and that part you got it right. Shame is a much harder devil to deal with. Shame is when you feel bad because you ARE wrong (or you think you are). And there’s a big difference.

The first one you may handle with self improvement (as you implied). You can move your body before the devil does. The devil is inside of you. In the second case you have to deal with the way “the others” perceive you, and the devils are too many. The problem is the collective consciousness, and that’s a way too big devil.

And then came Religion. It wasn’t just a list of No-Nos created by some wise men in the past to manage the inside devil, but mainly a well intended way to control that devil: the collective mind; sometimes becoming a worse practitioner of shame than the former.

David May 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi Gustavo. As I said, most of us have come to understand the word sin to be a judgment from others, and judgments from others provoke guilt and shame. I’m making a case for redefining sin as it was originally meant — a benchmark for self-reflection on ethics. Nowhere in this post do I advocate harnessing guilt or shame to change your behavior. The churches abused every concept they could in order to exert worldly power over populations, and the contemporary understanding of the word “sin” is one of the worst ones.

Steph in Berkeley May 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm

fantastic post. worthy of a top 10 spot methinks… and is truly inspiring in the action sense of the word.

i’ve been beating the laziness sin…am on a streak of 30days of exercise without a single lapse…the trick has been not to make it too intense and to set a time deadline. at X time, I just do it, if I haven’t already. No getting out of it unless I have a damn good reason (acute illness or circumstance beyond my control)…so far neither reason has kept me! Devil be damned!

David May 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Nice work!

Rose May 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm

This is the first entry I didn’t like. To be fair I skimmed through it because it made me feel highly uncomfortable. I was raised in a mildly religious family so no horrible stories, but for me the word “sin” still implies some element of shame. The sinner must repent, ask forgiveness and atone. Sins are bad things. They say “hate the sin, love the sinner” BUT it takes a mighty well grounded person to be able to recognize they (or someone) DID something bad without making it a “there IS something bad in me/them”.
Speaking of a devil-part enhances estrangement from oneself and devilifies parts of ourselves that also need our compassion. I think it’s highly dangerous to re-use or apply a way of talking and thinking that’s been loaded for centuries with shame and guilt. Our procrastination and inclination to hit snooze buttons isn’t Bad or Good, it just is, and it serves a purpose. It protects us when we’re afraid of failure or the implications of succes, when we’ve tied our image of ourselves to how well we do on certain things, when we’re tired, when we feel overwhelmed. I don’t think we should approach our vulnerabilities and subsequent coping mechanisms with a judging aproach by calling it a “devil”.

David May 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm

People have very strong reaction to the word sin because of the way the church has co-opted it and redefined it as a way of exploiting people and maintaining worldly power. The point here is to salvage the original intention behind it and put it to use in everyday life.

I hope it is obvious that I don’t imply any element of shame in this word, and that I’m using it in a way most people don’t use it. But I understand that if you grew up having it thrown at you by judgmental people, then you might not be able to help inferring shame exists in the word itself. Feel free to abandon the word altogether, but I hope you don’t miss the concept of self-reflection here. The devil analogy is tongue-in-cheek and I don’t think that way when reflecting on how I ought to live, I just wanted to illustrate how today’s insane religious narratives might actually have had some sense to them at one point.

Javeria May 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Although I truly love this website, I really don’t appreciate your subtle jab at Muslims: “In some cultures, the men insist that the women not be allowed to show their bodies at all, otherwise they are provoking sinful behavior. So they must wear cloth bags outside.” Muslim women do not cover their bodies because the men tell them to, they cover themselves because it is clear commandment from God. It shows the world that she respects her body, that she doesn’t want to use it to gain the attraction of men, that she has chosen a path of modesty and simplicity. She is not the property of men that they have every right to see her body, she doesn’t walk around flaunting herself hoping to catch a man. And you know what, the Quran first commands men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then the women. It is not the fault of the woman that the man chooses to look at her wrongly. You know how many benefits there are for a woman who chooses to cover? I can personally tell you that I am treated with ten times more respect than I ever was as a “liberated” woman wearing tight jeans and pounds of makeup. I feel so happy knowing that the only man who will see me in my true form will be my husband. I just don’t understand why it’s so offensive to everyone that a woman might want to cover her body.

Watch this for a better explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPstjtUTsHE

Karen J May 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Javeria ~ There are many modest clothing-options between “tight jeans and pounds of makeup” and a “cloth bag”.
And the Christian church(es) isn’t the only case of a hierarchy taking over the original ‘guidelines for living an unharmful life’, and turning them into rigid clubs to maintain worldly-power-over the people.

Javeria May 22, 2012 at 1:21 am

I know “cloth bag” was referred in the article, but it’s highly derogatory and there’s nothing in Islam that says a woman can’t dress nicely. So most women, where culture is not a issue, chose to cover themselves in a simple and respectful manner, not by wearing “cloth bags.” It may seem extreme to you that a woman would cover her hair and even face but it’s really not that abnormal historically, women in America used to wear types of hats and head coverings less than a hundred years ago. I guess my ultimate point was that it’s not rigid or a power struggle, it’s a woman’s choice.

Karen J May 22, 2012 at 4:50 am

Okay. Your point is well made. :)
I grew up with “cover your hair in church”, myself.
My guess is that the unintentionally derogatory term was used because, until very recently, to see a woman in a chador in N. America was *extremely unusual*.

Javeria May 22, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Karen- I see your point, but I wonder where you heard the term “chador” which means a sheet basically. There’s no verbiage like that in the religion itself. It’s a cultural term and obviously women in different countries will find different ways to dress modestly. There is a set guideline on what to cover but not how to do it. Most women here in America will wear like long dresses or skirts, not “chadors” lol. Even I would find it extremely unusual to see a woman donning a chador.

David May 22, 2012 at 7:14 am

Hi Javeria. It wasn’t meant to subtle, and it wasn’t meant to be a jab at Muslims, but rather at any dogmatic interpretation of spiritual teachings.

Not all Muslim women wear the burqa and there are many places where women are not free not to wear it. Whether it’s prescribed by the Quran or not, I think it is an obvious attempt by a patriarchal society to control women’s sexuality. I’m not the only one who thinks so, and that’s why it offends many people.

Since the dawn of agriculture, men have been desperate to own the sexuality of their mates, simply because they could not be certain their land would stay with in their families unless they made 100% sure their mates never, ever had sex with anyone else. If they could not be certain all their sons were genetically theirs, their farmland was at risk of being inherited by another man’s family. This is the beginning of the subjugation of women, and men have controlled most of the world’s land and wealth by controlling women ever since.

Post-agricultural religious texts all contain these overbearing safeguards against the sexual freedom of women. The central message may be God’s, but clearly the surrounding verbage is written by men for their own purposes. For example, Deuteronomy 22:13-21 advocates stoning women to death if they are not virgins on their wedding night. This strikes most Christians as completely insane, and so they rightfully reject it as a necessary commandment in serving God. It is obviously a relic of a different time and because of that, they are able to see that it is what the central message means, and not what the ancient tenets say to do, that is important.

Javeria May 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Hello David. I’m just a little confused on what you’re saying. Are you trying to say that women who wear the veil are having their sexuality manipulated/limited? You said, “I think it is an obvious attempt by a patriarchal society to control women’s sexuality,” do you mean the veil in itself or only when women are forced to wear it in some countries? I totally agree that it’s patriarchal for governments to force women to cover because it’s not even a dogmatic interpretation of Islam, it’s just a completely incorrect interpretation. And honestly there’s no question about that because when you have teachings like “There’s no compulsion in religion” or “Actions are based on intentions,” there’s obviously no reward or benefit for forced adherence. The countries that do this definitely do put a bad name to a beautiful ideology but they are just a handful of Arab countries and Arabs only account for like 15% of the 1 billion Muslim population, so they’re not quite representative. However, if you take issue with the veil in itself then do you mind elaborating? We have a long debate ahead of us if that’s the issue.

David May 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm

>Are you trying to say that women who wear the veil are having their sexuality manipulated/limited?

No, not necessarily, but that the reason such a tenet exists is to enforce monogamy by way of suppressing female sexuality. That doesn’t mean it is socially or legally mandatory everywhere today, nor does it mean that is necessarily why some women observe it (or even why some men insist their wives observe it.)
But there is no question in my mind that the practice began as a pretense for securing the sexual fidelity of women by restricting what is socially or legally permissable for them to wear. Today some societies are more progressive than others, and the rights of women vary greatly, as you know.

Javeria May 25, 2012 at 6:08 am

Oh. Man. I’m even more confused at your thought process now. So you’re saying that women can choose to cover for whatever reason but that originally it was a practice meant to restrict women’s sexuality? Although wearing loose clothing and covering the hair and neck are not legal or social mandates everywhere, they are mandates of Islam. This is to say that Islam prohibits people from forcing religion onto one another but that a woman would follow this ruling if she wants to progress in her religion. This brings me to the following question: have you ever read anything about Islam’s teachings on women, women’s rights, gender relations, or sexuality to have no question in your mind about the origin of the veil? Just to briefly point out, under Islam, a woman has complete rights to property, education, work, leadership positions, marital consent, divorce and most certainly sex. This has all been spelled out over 1400 years ago as the legal rights of women. Neither a man nor a woman has a right to premarital sex but under the legal bond of marriage, Islam encourages sex as a natural part of humanity. There are even clear teachings that say a husband can’t just pounce on his wife, but has to make sure she is in the mood and ready.

I know you as well as others watching the American media would believe otherwise, but how can you say that a belief that gives every single right to women would restrict their sexuality in any way. How does clothing represent one’s sexuality anyway? Yes, you can dress in a “sexy” way, but if that is all then you’re really limiting the concept of sexuality. To me it’s more than that; it’s when our Prophet would wait until his wife was done drinking water just so he could drink from the same cup and from the same exact side. It’s when she would ask him how strong their love is and he would reply “like a tight knot.” It’s when he took her to see street performers, and she kept saying she wasn’t ready to leave not because she was interested in the show but because she was resting her chin on his shoulders and loved it. What more do you want?

You know I think I went off on a tangent, what I really want to answer is that, a man also has to dress in loose clothing and is encouraged to cover his hair. He also has to lower his gaze when engaging with women, isn’t that sexual repression? Sure, when a woman covers herself it makes it harder for her to attract random men off the street. It makes it harder for her to engage in sex outside of marriage. It even makes it harder for the man to get his daily dose of gawking. If these are things you think are rights of women then I guess your view is logical.

Anyways sorry for this essay, I only wrote it because I’ve read your posts and know you’re an extremely reasonable person, which is why I had to address this slip up.

nails May 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

Hey Javeria,

I read your post and I think that you and David are making the same points. I feel like you’re trying to show the other side of the issue in terms of why wearing a hijjab or veil is not necessarily repression, which is very true. However I think you are missing the main point of what David is trying to say. It is about the freedom of choice in your actions and beliefs. I’ve always believed that any religious teaching or general life philosophy for that matter is useless unless you as an individual can make your own choices as to what you believe. Any time we are FORCED to do ANYTHING, the power for us to develop our own sense of morality has been taken. When we no longer make our own choice, we can no longer determine for ourselves whether something is right or wrong. We assume it is right because we have not broken a rule. This does not just apply to Islam, but all religions. You’re absolutely correct about Women’s rights in Islam but David is also correct in pointing out that the veil was created by men to control a woman’s sexuality.

You’re last points:
“Sure, when a woman covers herself it makes it harder for her to attract random men off the street. It makes it harder for her to engage in sex outside of marriage. It even makes it harder for the man to get his daily dose of gawking. If these are things you think are rights of women then I guess your view is logical.”

It seems like you’re making saying this to point out the benefits of women wearing a hijab or veil. However shouldn’t a man be moral enough to not stare at women like a creep?, is the contract of marriage not enough to prevent the moral indiscretion of infidelity?, and should a woman have a choice of whether she wants to attract a man?

See what I mean? Many religions have tried to eliminate the possibility of certain sins by enforcing guidelines that are thought to prevent these sins from occurring. However all of these guidelines do nothing to develop an individuals morality, thus never really creating any growth within that person in the first place.

Jayme May 31, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Well said, Nails!

Linda Lesperance May 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Nice blog! In New Orleans we always say: Sin, Repent, Repeat!
Keeps it in perspective.

J.J. Sylvia IV May 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I recently ran across an interesting strategy for this type of self-evaluation. Pick the areas of your life that really matter (e.g., spirituality, relationships, health, etc.) and then have a monthly meeting where you evaluate yourself on a scale of 1-10 in each area. Then, seeing the ones you want to improve, come up with 1-2 actions you can take that month to improve them. I thought this was a pretty cool idea. So in your example for exercising, the action item could be to make sure you work out x number of days per week, rather than x number of workouts per week. It’s a strategy I’m considering trying out.

David May 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Sounds like good old steve pavlina!

Bryan Weller May 21, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I agree that the word and concept of sin is generally applied to religious people specifically, but certainly can be attributed to any moral failing, regardless of where you cite your moral code from.

While I do see your point about how much of our “sin” comes against ourselves, a great deal also comes against society. After all, I think that moral codes have grown out of necessity to live in large groups. Morality makes it possible for us to live together for the benefit of all. So sinning is also a failure against the group.

Nitya May 22, 2012 at 12:44 am

When was this “golden era”? Was there some period of time in history when religions had completely benign intentions and were not trying to control the population (women in particular) by applying rules of behaviour and observance that propped up the ruling class, individuals or families?

David May 22, 2012 at 7:18 am

I never referred to a golden era. But clearly the word sin doesn’t mean what it used to mean, and clearly there was a time when there were no catholic-church-sized institutions accumulating and exerting political power. The central premise behind Christianity is obviously compassion towards other human beings, and the contemporary Catholic view on sin clearly has nothing to do with compassion. So yes, somewhere along the line, things got evil. I don’t believe it was always this way.

Kristy Hans May 22, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Perhaps, we cannot avoid to make sins. Me, I am also a sinner but I am trying to be a better person. Living in this world will absolutely experience sins which may not want you to have. But, that is life.

Brian Branagan May 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks for your take on the “Seven Deadlies.” I thought you might be interested in reading about the “Seven Virtues” as well: http://deadlysins.com/virtues.html

Jessi Tidwell May 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Thanks, David.

Mindy May 25, 2012 at 7:44 am

I’m going to the church tomorrow. I feel guilty with my sins after reading this post

Tony Draxler May 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris is a fantastic book that goes deep into the idea of choices that determine our ultimate happiness and how there are many right and wrong ways to navigate this landscape but there are definitely choices that lead to suffering and choices that alleviate it… All within a secular world view. Whatever you call it “sinning, falling short, etc” this book gives a great non-religious viewpoint on how to make the right decisions based on simple happiness

Evan May 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Thanks for that prod about the “hitting the snooze button a few extra times instead of getting up and meditating.” That one hit home for me! In that scenario, I do have feelings of guilt and shame that arise. I’ve caught myself thinking “you are weak and bad for missing this meditation if you don’t get up right now!”

Then, a magical thing happens: I pause and look at my thoughts, I recognize them for what they are: patterns that have developed in my past that have gotten me to where I am today. I thank myself for looking out for myself, then remind myself of my true underlying intention which is to look inside and self-improve. I force myself out of bed and in a few short seconds the barrier to jump across is forgotten and in the past!

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