Sin—Does It Matter Anymore?
“AS A nation, we officially ceased ‘sinning’ some twenty years ago.” This was the comment of Dr. Karl Menninger in his book Whatever Became of Sin? He noted that the last time an American president mentioned sin as a major national concern was in a proclamation in 1953.
In Eastern countries, the concept of sin is not usually as important as, say, the concept of honor, or of filial piety. But in Western lands it was at one time considered vitally important. If someone was accused of sinning, this was extremely serious. Nowadays, things seem to have changed. If people say they have sinned, it is usually with a half smile on their face. Sin no longer is fearsome. Is this how it should be viewed?
Exactly what is sin? The truth is, many are not even sure anymore. Formerly, men spoke of the “seven deadly sins”: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Today, these traits seem commonplace. Pride is encouraged in such things as national pride or racial pride. It is hard to see how the consumer societies in many wealthy countries could continue without a measure of covetousness, envy and gluttony among the populace. Adultery, homosexuality and fornication—varieties of lust—are tolerated or encouraged, even by some religious leaders. And sloth is actively encouraged by modern inventions such as television.
Sometimes people say: ‘Well, as long as you let your conscience be your guide, you will not commit a sin.’ It is true that our conscience is a God-given help to recognize what is good and what is bad. If it had not been for conscience, human society would probably have long ago fallen into complete chaos and barbarism.—Rom. 2:14, 15.
But conscience can be deceptive, too. For example, most people would recognize murder to be a sin. Yet murder was religiously sanctioned for the worshipers of the Hindu goddess Kali, as well as for the Roman Catholic inquisitors of the Middle Ages. Jesus warned his followers: “The hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God.” (John 16:2) Even today, up to 50 million unborn babies are murdered each year through abortion, often with the approval of the law of the land.
Additionally, some have a remarkable ability to bend their conscience. As was said of a certain statesman, their conscience becomes their “accomplice” rather than their “guide.” Thus, it is true that most would view stealing as a sin, particularly if it was their money that was stolen. But one of the biggest crime problems in the United States is business crime, involving things like pilfering, insurance fraud, bribery and kickbacks. Millions of ordinary people indulge in this. Does their conscience bother them? Apparently not. Why not? Perhaps because they are not exposed, or because “everybody does it.”
Hence, while conscience has a part to play in recognizing what sin is, it seems to need guidance. But where does the guidance come from? Often, those who claim to be authorities on the subject contradict themselves or one another.
In the Roman Catholic Church, for example, at one time it was considered a sin to eat meat on Fridays. Nowadays, on most Fridays of the year, this is no longer the case. Many wonder: ‘What is the difference between then and now?’
This same religious organization views it as a serious sin to use “artificial” means to limit the size of a family. Yet many people, even Catholics, view with alarm the earth’s exploding population and now think differently. They doubtless agree with Dr. Karl Menninger’s comments: “Ruthlessness, indifference, lack of restraint in reproduction, or ignorance and indifference regarding its world consequences seem to me the expression of a most heinous sin.” Which is the sin—to limit or to encourage population growth?
Such things cause confusion in the mind of the people. A recent survey of Roman Catholics in the United States found an “absence in most Catholics of a clear idea of what sin is.” Many admitted that they are “confused as to what sin is,” and hence “are not sure what to confess.”
Some intellectuals even question whether sin exists anymore. They prefer to talk about “sickness” rather than “sin.” Concerning Jim Jones, the promulgator of the recent mass suicide of his followers in Guyana, a theologian quoted in Time magazine commented: “I think what really happens with people like Hitler and Jones is simple psychological sickness. The only response, it seems to me, is pity for everybody involved, not moral horror.”
Does It Really Matter?
In view of such widespread diversity of opinion, does sin really matter anymore? Well, if we care about our family and neighbors, if we want a hope for the future and desire to live happy, satisfying lives now, then the answer must be “Yes.”
“Sin” is sometimes defined as “the breaking of religious law or a moral principle.” The mention of “religious law” brings to mind the fact that, really, the only One who can authoritatively tell us what sin is and how to avoid it is the Author of true religion, Jehovah God. He created man to live according to certain moral laws. If we break natural laws—such as the law of gravity—the result can be disastrous. Similarly, if we break God’s moral laws—that is, if we sin—the result eventually may be equally disastrous. The Bible warns us: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Gal. 6:7.
Sin’s calamitous effect on an individual is revealed in these words of Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” Its bad effect on whole nations is shown at Proverbs 14:34, which states: “Righteousness is what exalts a nation, but sin is something disgraceful to national groups.”
Yes, sin does matter. For our own good, we have to recognize what it is, and must learn to avoid it. How is this possible? Let us see in the following articles.
King David said: “Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.”—Ps. 51:5.