Sinner Man, Sinner Woman, Are You a Sinner?

original sin

Sin has a special place in Christian society.  According to orthodox Christians, we are all sinners.   Most Christians upon hearing this will simply nod their head and agree.  The Catholic Church has two types of sin.  One is mortal sin.  This will get you a place in hell if not confessed before you die.  The other is called venial sin.  A venial sin gives you a place in Purgatory where you fry only for a little while until the sin is expurgated.  Then you can move on to heaven having been cleansed of “sinful” behavior.  Somewhat recently, the Catholic Church got rid of the idea of Purgatory.  It is either heaven or hell these days.

Now if you are of a more secular bent, you may dismiss the idea of sin.  In fact, you may be offended by the idea.  For myself as an atheist, I accept that the idea of sin holds some validity in the sense that some behaviors are so egregious they need strong condemnation.  The Ten Commandments depict several such behaviors that are evil enough to have been banned or outlawed in many societies.  Principally among these are murder, robber and adultery.  Even so, these behaviors are far from uncommon throughout the world.

seven deadly sins

Most of us have no doubt heard of the “seven deadly sins.”  The “seven deadly sins” were originally based on a list of eight principal vices.  This list was developed by the mystic Evagrius Ponticus in the fourth century CE.  In the sixth century, Pope Gregory I changed the list of eight vices into the list of seven deadly, or cardinal, sins of Roman Catholic theology.  This list includes pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth.  The only problem with this list is that you would look long and hard before you would find anyone who did not harbor at least one of these “sins.”  I suspect most of us are guilty of all of them at one time or another.  If sin is so common what good does it do to punish people with threats of hell and perdition?

When some behavior becomes normal, can it still be a sin?  Will most Americans go to hell for being greedy?  You are liable to say “no, surely not!”  There is no law against greed, gluttony or pride.  I am no sinner because I lust after the beautiful babe in the skintight yoga pants

Thus, it would be easy to argue that Pope Gregory 1 went overboard with his definition of these seven behaviors as sinful.  If these are not sins, should they even rank as vices?  What if greed were regarded as a vice, what would that say about modern American society?

“A worldwide survey found that majorities of people in the U.K., Canada, Spain and Australia think of Americans as violent, greedy and arrogant…The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that a median of 54 percent of people in countries surveyed associated the negative trait of arrogance with Americans. Fifty-two percent associate greed, and 48 percent say Americans are violent. — The world thinks Americans are violent, greedy, arrogant — and Americans agree  — Teresa Welsh (2016)

I could make a case that each of these seven vices or sins is simply a normal manifestation of human behavior.  Any one of them can be taken to extremes and become dysfunctional but where is the line drawn between normal pride and excessive pride, where is the line drawn between envy and desire and who draws the lines?  My argument is that calling these seven characteristics as vices is almost as extreme as calling them sins.

Does this mean that all of us are perfect?  Can any of us be as pure at heart as Sir Galahad?  Very unlikely, I would think.  So, if we are not sinful or full of vices, then what are we?

I like the word flawed.  Vocabulary.com defines flawed as:

“Flawed objects have some kind of imperfection — a dent or a blemish.  No one’s perfect, so everyone is flawed in some way, but when this word describes a person it often means ‘weak in character.’  A Shakespearian flawed hero has some flaw or foible that will ultimately be his undoing: in other words, a fatal flaw.”

I do not accept that we are all sinful.  I do believe that we are all flawed.  However, I also reject the idea that it means we are weak in character.  Many common run of the mill flaws are more lapses in judgement than they are permanent attributes.  My own definition of a flawed person is “someone who has a behavior that often causes either discomfort to the individual or to those who interact with the individual.”

original-1328023-1There are things that bother other people which may not be flaws at all.  In fact, some so called flaws demonstrate individuals who are marching to a different drummer or who are defying conventional social norms.  To defy anti-Semitism in Germany during the early 20th century would have been considered a character flaw.  To be an abolitionist in the South prior to the Civil War would have led to persecution by your fellow citizens.  Who today would consider these character flaws?  History will often show that a “flawed” individual was a hero or heroine rather than someone with a character defect.

No doubt, some flaws are more serious than others.  Some can be “fatal flaws” depending on the culture and specific context.  Today sexism is widely regarded as being a very serious flaw.  To be accused of sexism can mean the end of a career or worse depending on the infraction.  Witness the number of recent trials for those guilty of sexism.  And of course, it is not only men who succumb to the lure of sex and power but women as well as evidenced by the recent debacle that ensnared former Representative Katie Hill.  No one should be surprised though to know that there are still those who harbor anti-Semitic, sexist or racist sentiments and many who regard these behaviors as normal.

narcissists-deny-flaws-in-themselves

But sin including the concept of “Original Sin” is something that excuses the participant.  If you sin, you can simply confess to god or your local pastor and be forgiven.  If you believe that we are all sinners, when do you stop sinning?  A flaw does not give you the excuse that a sin does.  Saying “we are all sinners” is like saying “we are all racists.”  Even if it were true, so what?  What are you going to do about being a racist?  Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.”  He did not say “go sin and come back again and be forgiven.”

A flaw must be addressed in a different way.  A flaw is something that must be acknowledged and not simply forgiven.  A flaw is something that you must work on.  If you are lazy or greedy, you can through diligence and discipline become “unlazy and ungreedy.”  History is full of examples of people with “flaws” who overcame them and went on to valued exemplary lives.

opportunity

A flaw does not imply any inherent ineradicable weakness.  There is no evidence that people have a DNA gene for the seven vices/sins.  A flaw gives you a choice.  Live with it and deal with the consequences or manage it and improve your character.

“When I pass, speak freely of my shortcomings and my flaws. Learn from them, for I’ll have no ego to injure.”  — Aaron McGruder

 

 

 

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