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Sin? The Truth May Surprise You

Updated on May 15, 2016
Hanavee profile image

Brian Gray, obtained his degree in Language from Lee University, and has been a published author and professional writer since 1985.

A Man Decrees, A Woman Wears

Muslim women forced to completely cover themselves, while men do not have to do the same.  Why?
Muslim women forced to completely cover themselves, while men do not have to do the same. Why?

Carrying A Heavy Weight

I heard the loud sound of someone huffing and puffing with obvious difficulty in their struggle, and I turned to behold an old man with a huge bundled sack on his shoulders. The sight of someone so worn out from what immediately appeared to have been a very hard life, and to be showing all the signs of such travails, vexed me greatly. Bent nearly double with the weight, the gnarled relic of a human being was half the size of his heavy load. Greatly perplexed, I wondered aloud as to why he was carrying so great a burden. “Why, I must!” he replied with near indignant astonishment at my question. “I must, I must, I must... until I die, I must carry these or I shall lose my reward,” he intoned methodically, as if singing a religious hymn. “What reward?” I inquired with true intrigue. As if I had asked a silly question, and without shifting even so much as one ounce of the burdensome weight to the ground for relief, the withered old man replied, “Why, when I reach my goal, I will be rewarded for having carried all of these faithfully to the very end of my course. It’s a great reward,” he added reassuringly. “Can you describe this reward?” I asked. “Well, it’s a better house in a better city,” he replied. “And have you seen this house?” I pondered further. “No, but I have heard many people talk about it, and they say it is wonderful,” he responded with a nearly blissful smile. “And what is in this great bag which you carry?” I inquired. “Why, they are lists of restrictions...many, many, many restrictions,” he answered with utmost seriousness. “Restrictions?” I mused, “What on earth do you mean?” “Well,” he began, “I am not sure about some of them, because I have never had the time to study all of them...” His voice seemed to trail for a moment, pensive, then he picked back up with some fervor, “... but they are for my benefit, and if I carry all of these to the end of my journey, then I receive my reward.” “And who gave you these ‘restrictions’?” I asked with even more intrigue. “Well,” he began, “I have never met him, because he died many years ago, but we follow his directions, because we know he knew more than we do...and we all want that reward, you know,” said the old man with a strange joy. And with that, he said, “Well, I must be off, got a ways to go yet, and someone told me that there were some more restrictions waiting for me just ahead. I look forward to putting those in my bag. That should really add to my house in that city.” I watched with great puzzlement as the old man struggled to keep the load from falling and slowly shuffled out of sight. A great burden handed to him by others, messages of restrictions written by someone other than himself, many unread and mysterious as to their logic, but he carried all of them on his back with pride, all because of the great reward he had been told would be his for this arduous task...a reward he had to accept by faith... for the load he had to accept by fact.

Required Mormon Underwear

Who said that wearing underwear that does not look like this is going to damn our souls?
Who said that wearing underwear that does not look like this is going to damn our souls?

Raised Among The "Do Nots"

And it becomes obvious to most who read this far that the symbolism here employed is the definition of “sin.” “Sin” is any one of a list of religious restrictions thought up by others than ourselves and then forced on others who blindly follow without question. A method used to keep children in line is to tell them what is defined as “wrongdoing” and what the consequences are of committing that “wrongdoing.” Misbehaving equates with punishment once the parents find out about those infractions. Funny how we grow into adults and use the same equation for religious teachings. We are taught that God is our Father, and if we commit “sin,” God will be displeased and will even punish us. At some point, the person telling us that God is not pleased by “sin” will give us a list of what things constitute “sin.” And, because we don’t want to lose out with God, we follow whatever that person lists as the great “Do Nots.” I was raised in the Fundamentalist sect of Christianity, and I remember once, as a child, being severely frustrated that everything my schoolmates were allowed to go and do for fun was off limits to me. I couldn’t do this, and I couldn’t do that, and it all boiled over one day as I whined to my father, who was a preacher, “Daddy, our religion is just a bunch of don’ts. We can’t do ANYTHING!” My father was taken aback by that comment and told me that such was not true, but his comment to the contrary did not change my view at the time. I could not go to the movies, I could not go bowling, I could not play any games that involved dice, I could not go to the beach, I could not wear shorts in public in the summer time, I could not listen to “worldly music” (I had my secret stash of Motown records), I could not dance, I could not wear any jewelry, I could not wear stylish clothes... and the list went on and on. Yes, my religion was a religion of “don’ts.” And where did these “don’ts” come from? Well, they sure didn’t come from me! I remember that, by the time I had gotten to college, the words of Jesus weighed heavily on me regarding the subject of religious restrictions. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light, so why did I feel so constrained and burdened by religious restrictions that I followed like a fanatic zealot? I was carrying a huge bag of restrictions, and virtually all of them had been placed in my bag by others.

Hairstyles Dictated By A Man

These women are required to dress in styles long outdated and wear their hair in similar fashion, because of the decree of a man.
These women are required to dress in styles long outdated and wear their hair in similar fashion, because of the decree of a man.

The Lesson Of Martin Luther

By the time I was in college, I had become a fanatical religious zealot, striving to become a modern-day Apostle Paul for all of my strict religious observances. In later years, I would come to discover that “religious” is not necessarily “spiritual,” and as someone once wisely observed, a religious man follows the dictates of his church; a spiritual man follows the dictates of his soul. I had to learn the difference. Let me say right here that we can all create a list of “sins,” but they are founded on human frailty, human desire to be closer to God, and while personal sacrifice may yield a style of living that is productive for each of us individually, your personal list of restrictions has absolutely nothing to do with mine. If you invent a list, “you” invented that list. Follow it if you choose, for good or for worse, but to inflict that on others truly fulfills the old saying that misery loves company. Martin Luther was on his way to becoming a prominent lawyer in Germany when he was caught in a terrible storm, and fearing for his life, he prayed to Saint Anne, the patroness saint of miners, and promised that , if she would save him from this terrible storm, he would become a monk. When the storm suddenly abated, Martin Luther kept his unfounded promise and entered a monastery. One of his experiences has always stuck with me. He determined that, in his bid to become closer to God, he should not sleep with comfortable blankets. So, Martin Luther replaced his blankets with rough burlap. Eventually, he felt that his bed, likewise, was “sinfully” comfortable and did not provide the spiritual sacrifice needed to get closer to God, so he began to sleep on the floor. Eventually, he got rid of the pillow, and eventually, even the burlap blanket, reasoning that being warm was an indulgence that he should forgo. And there lay Martin Luther on that cold, stone floor thinking to himself that after all of this constant self-sacrifice, he was still no closer to God. He could kill himself with self-deprivations, and he would still be no closer to God. Eventually, Martin Luther left the monastery and applied reasoning to his pursuit of religious beliefs. Is sleeping on a bed with warm blankets a sin? There would be a time when Martin Luther might have not only felt that the answer was in the affirmative, but had he not had the legal mind that he did, he may have added some new sins to someone else’s list. Later, Martin Luther studied the words of the apostle Paul, wherein he said, “The just shall live by faith,” and this opened his mind to understanding that there is nothing we can do as physical action to earn closeness to God. Our faith in God is sufficient to inherit that position.

Required To Be Different

The unique hairstyle of an Hassidic Jew.
The unique hairstyle of an Hassidic Jew.

Who Wrote Your List?

One of the tenets of Christianity is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ did away with the rituals of animal sacrifices that were so common, and made it so that all who became believers would no longer have to observe the established lists of sins and their requisite sacrifices. Still, there are many who follow Christianity and who, while not sacrificing animals on an altar, regularly have their own versions of sacrifice for sins on a list that they have created for themselves, lists that were actually authored and handed to them by others.

Religious Requirements Dictating Attire

Though we may look different, many of us will think nothing of the sacrifice imposed on our dress by our religious leaders.
Though we may look different, many of us will think nothing of the sacrifice imposed on our dress by our religious leaders.

The Origin Of The Word

What is sin? And, who determines the answer to that question? These are two very important questions, because, like the old man I described in the beginning of this discussion, if we do not know what the word actually means, we can become weighted down with a collection of edicts formulated by others who are as unqualified to answer that question as they are to place those unnecessary burdens on us. Studying the question of “sin,” people will ask me, what is “sin,” and why do so many Christians teach their various “lists?” The word “sin” goes back through the centuries to the Old English noun, “synn,” meaning “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed,” and this word goes further back to the Latin “sons/sont,” meaning “guilty.” Further back, still, we find that the Greeks had several words to define the various types of “sins” and their relative intensity, but the word used for what we translate as “sin” would be the Greek word ἁμαρτία , “hamartia,” an archery term that simply means “to miss the mark.” And this goes back to the ancient Hebrew word, חטא , “chata,” which once again means “to miss the mark.” What a person finds when reading the Bible, whether it is the Old or New Testament, is that the more religious people became, the more they expected that there should be given them a list of restrictions that would keep them from incurring the wrath of God, as well as to ensure that they would live with God in the afterlife. Those “lists” have varied over the centuries, along with their human authors, and the description of the reward in the afterlife has equally varied. Even the “Seven Deadly Sins” is a list created by a human being, Pope Gregory I, to be exact, around the year A.D. 600. So, the question arises even more importantly, “What is sin?” Or, is there such a thing, then, as “sin?”

Separation Of Church And State

Humans have tried to make lists of sins ever since we first appeared on the planet. Lists, and punishments for violating those lists, read like bizarre documents from another planet. Though civilized countries have pretty much gotten away from mandating laws that punish citizens for religious sins, it has not been that long ago that we Westerners did, and we are still paying for the residual effect of having had the Church dictate civil law for so many centuries. Not too long ago, civilians could be put to death, and routinely were, for violating the lists of sins cranked out by the Church. When Spanish explorers conquered South American kingdoms, they were known to extort the conversion of the rulers to Christianity, then summarily execute them before they could lapse into a return to their cultural religions...saving souls from “backsliding.” To see the barbarism and lack of spirituality in so many man-made religious edicts in this current day and age, one need only go to such third-world countries as Afghanistan or Pakistan, and one will see countless examples of women being stoned to death for such “sins” as being rape victims, or even for being “shamefully dressed,” otherwise known as too short of a veil exposing hair on the head. Have we Westerners been “weird” about sin? In 18th and 19th Century Europe, Christians observed the custom of “sin eating.” If a person died, he or she might have some sins that were not confessed prior to death, so, a “sin eater” was hired. A slice of bread, or a vessel of wine or beer, would be placed on the body of the deceased. The sins went into the food, and the sin eater would then consume the bread or wine and thus consume the sins, leaving the deceased cleansed in the afterlife. Even today, joking phrases such as “living in sin,” meaning living together without the blessings of a Church marriage ceremony, were once severely punished by laws that originated in the Church. And if you think for one minute that questioning the authority of the Church to enumerate a list of sins and relative punishments is out of the question, America was founded on a strong desire to be free of that very same powerful persecution. Colonial settlers knew all too well the effect on their lives when human beings became religious zealots, formed religious institutions, then gained the power to mandate public laws. The long road to freedom in the United States has been strengthened by the principle of Separation of Church and State.

Is Conformity On The List?

These Amish women would not think of dressing differently from the requirements of their church.
These Amish women would not think of dressing differently from the requirements of their church.

Questioning The List

I remember when I began to question “The List.” I was sitting in church one Sunday, and a very beloved preacher was well into his sermon when he said the following: “Rock and Roll music will take your soul straight to Hell! But, now, Country music...well, that’s God’s music.” He smiled benignly when he said “Country music,” as if everyone in that congregation knew exactly what he meant and agreed wholeheartedly. Yep, they all liked Country music, and they all hated Rock and Roll, so… “Amen!” Rock and Roll music made it to the “The List.” When I was a teenager, being caught listening to “worldly” music could result in punishment, so we would wait until our parents were out of the house to turn on the radio and listen to our favorites, all while one of us kept a lookout for the car arriving in the driveway. There was many a close call when I looked out the window to hear car doors closing and barely managed to get the LP off the record player in time to flee to the bedroom and stash those “immoral” records in their hiding place.

Following Dictates Not Written By You

Amish men showing adherence to a strict dress code for their religion.
Amish men showing adherence to a strict dress code for their religion.

Destiny

In all seriousness, the Bible contains passages that rail against the various societal lapses of the day, from the prophets of ancient Israel to the apostles of the Early Church, but even these two groups would have disagreed on what was sin and what was not, such is “moral evolution.” However, the principle remains, we do not want to “miss the mark.” And there is a “mark” for which we should be aiming. What is that “mark?” Destiny With Our Creator. I have intentionally made that phrase all capitals for a reason, that being, you should stop and think about that phrase all throughout your life. Destiny? Destiny with what? Destiny with Death, with the life beyond this plane of existence. It is easy to get caught up with man-made “lists,” lists that are for religious parrots who think and act like children, when the real focus should be what happens when the adult in the room, “The Question Of Death,” comes knocking at your door for a conversation. As the old Amish proverb says, “We grow too soon old and too late smart,” why wait until death to start thinking seriously about the Four Questions of Life? And those four questions are: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going when I leave here? Ignore them all you want to, but they WILL be answered...in due time, either here in this plane of existence, or on the other side of this plane.

Don't Miss The Mark

The concept of Heaven and Hell has been an ever-evolving one, even in the Bible. Do good, you are rewarded, do bad, and you are punished, nothing new with that theme, and if you go to any church in America and engage in a conversation with the members, it does not take long before “The List” is trotted out, and you are told who is excluded from “Heaven.” I remember many years ago listening to a sermon preached by an elder African-American preacher from Pittsburgh named Reverend E.D. Cobb, and I will never forget his opening line. He said, “Some of you, when you get to Heaven, you’re going to look around and say, ‘Well, look who’s here!’” I believe, from my experience with an out-of-body event described in my article “Does God Exist?,” that there is indeed life after this one. I believe that some Greater Force has a purpose for my existence. It seems logical that this Great Force has designed “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And Where am I going when I leave here?” Strangely, the Bible gives us two clues as to the proper religious view regarding “sin.” The Apostle Paul, while in a discussion about “sins,” says in I Corinthians 10:23 that “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” And in Micah 6:8, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God?” If we were to take all of the sin “Lists” that have been put together by human beings since time began, and we tried to live by them, we would look like religious pretzels with more convolutions than dried prunes. For each person, there are rules that help that person get through life, and these rules are not the same from person to person. We each do daily battle with “Self” and all its natural flaws and pitfalls. The path ahead is a forked road, and we each decide which path to take—one leading to happiness at death, the other leading to sorrow. We either hit the mark and end this existence satisfied, or we end it regretful. While some would have us flagellating ourselves daily with whips, literally, I think God would have us live this life free from the Hell that zealots have created for us. Maybe that is one of the reasons He sent Jesus Christ to tell us that we are free from the label of “sinners,” that with His sacrifice, and through the grace of that act, we are to accept, as Paul said, that all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable… in other words, don’t allow yourself to be detoured, to be taken off of the path that leads to being spiritually satisfied when it comes your turn to leave this plane of existence. Aim properly, and you won’t miss the mark.

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    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 14 months ago from the bridge of sighs

      What an insightful article.I'm not religious but I was intrigued by your title.The rigidity of institutional religion pushes many people away who might be more open minded otherwise.I personally tend to apply Occam's razor to complicated mental concepts like religion and God...and my answer has remained the same for many many years...we wont know for sure until we die.In the mean time being a good person just plain feels better...so I try.Again,excellent article;I hope you get tons of reads on it.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 14 months ago from Pennsylvania

      cheaptrick,

      Thank you for reading my article and for your very welcome comments. I learned a long time ago that truth can stand to be questioned, that only lies fall when scrutinized well, and it has made me an independent thinker who wants to know the difference between myth and reality. Like the Bible says, we see through dark glass in this life, but in the afterlife, we will know perfectly.

      Brian

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

      Han

      a very delicate and difficult topic. Not sure if it's up to your best work. I think by pointing out with visual images the alleged failures of various religions restrictions you might be opening yourself up to criticism. We should respect and appreciate religious differences not mock them.

      If we do what's right for us we are being righteous but if we try to force others to do what we do we are being self righteous. We can't really go around faulting the religious practices of others. We are of course free to debate against self righteous behaviour as it "misses the mark".

      I would like to see some comments in the hub about the law which has it's own way of defining "sin" which cuts across the various religions.

    • profile image

      Damian Fedorko 14 months ago

      Interesting column and what you did is listen to your parents as I did and if I was going to misbehave or anything wrong, spiritually, they were there reminding me of what they taught me. And even today, more than ever, my parents are with me. The Mormon underwear is new to me. I have a few Mormon friends and I never saw anyone wear those clothes. Those clothes must have been worn a few centuries ago but not today. Look at the catholic church today. I was taught to wear my best clothes when I attended church services but today, I see people wearing shorts, t-shirts and, no offense, the women are the worst wearing short shorts with a low neckline blouse.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 14 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Oztinato,

      At no time have I "mocked" other religions in my article. But, I have shown just a small sampling of the various ways in which different religious sects define holiness. You are right to assume that everyone has a right to choose to act and dress according to any of these sects, but when the adherents of these sects begin to tell the rest of us that we are going to Hell for not doing as they do, then I have a problem.

      Brian

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 14 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Damian,

      Those Mormon underwear are actually current. And you mention the clothing that was prevalent when you attended church as a youth. I remember the strict teachings in my church of what could not be worn, and that has all changed. Funny, but what was considered "holy" and "modest" even then would have been considered immoral only fifty years earlier. Some aspects of morality will always be re-defined as time moves on.

      Brian

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

      Han

      of course we agree about not pontificating about telling other people what to do especially if they a claiming ridiculous things like hellfire etc.

      I just don't see how pointing out certain religious customs like dress codes are relevant to the topic.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 14 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Oztinato,

      You wrote:

      " I just don't see how pointing out certain religious customs like dress codes are relevant to the topic."

      These examples are very relevant. The dress codes were not mandated by God, but were instituted by men, and when one examines these dress codes, one will find historically that they were harsh and directed at women more than men. Further, I am extremely familiar with how these people think, having been raised in one of those sects, and the common thread is that the adherents, as well as the leaders in those sects, will tell you that you are going to Hell for not following their mandates. Most religious ritual is invented by man, borrowed from other cultures, other religions, and evolves with the likes and dislikes of the culture into which it is absorbed, but very few can point to proof that God is the author of these dictates. Just because people preface their "laws" with the words "God says so," does not mean that God is the author, nor do many of these rituals bring one any closer to God.

      Brian

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

      Brian

      Mormons for example don't have a hell. They believe there are greater, mIddling and lower realms. Perdition is only reserved for ex high ranked members who actively persecute their church (a small number). The members don't preach fire and brimstone to those who don't do what they do. Their members choose to adopt modes of behaviour and dress etc.

      Likewise Jews choose to adopt certain clothes and customs and they don't expect others to adopt those rules.

      Amish stick to themselves and their rules are for themselves.

      If any group or sect insists that everyone has to adopt their rules then of course they need to be educated via open debate if they choose to participate in such discussions. Such insistences via violence and agitation are totally unacceptable but if a group is insulated and only pressures it's members there is nothing to stop them if members choose to belong.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 14 months ago

      It depends what each person believes. If he/she believes in the religion they follow, they will believe the 'rules'. If he/she believes in themselves then they can tell themselves what they believe is sin. Therefore, each person will have a different view to a point.

    • profile image

      Connie Orser 14 months ago

      Quite an interesting article, Wayne. Your personal remembrances of our list of rules are so true. We sure can't earn our way into heaven by adherence to man made rules. Jesus Christ paid the price on Calvary for our sins and if we believe in Him, by faith, we are saved from a life of sin. We could never make ourselves good enough for Gods heaven but He gave His Son for our sins. We can follow Jesus as our pattern for living and have peace, love, and joy even in trying times.

      Brian, I really enjoyed your article.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 13 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Connie,

      Glad you saw the good in this article. Like driving a car down a country road, missing the mark means ending up in the cornfield. God wrote guidelines into our hearts, and if we listen, we find a road that is better for our travels.

      Brian

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 13 months ago from Australia

      Brian

      Yes the heart's path is the best path of all.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 13 months ago from Tasmania

      All very interesting in your article, Brian and from the various comments.

      Personally, I have come to my own conclusions, yet allowing one or two areas for change of mind at some time in the future...perhaps.

      For now, I respect your understandings of those "Out of the Body Experiences." I respect your conclusions that there must be a designer, a Grand Purpose for your life, for all the other deeper understandings you have come to via study, contemplation and learning.

      My understanding, for myself (and having respect for Oztinato's latest postings) there will be no consciousness or follow-on from my earthly life. It will end when it ends, with no residual knowledge or memory. So, I can give full concentration to the Here and Now, giving my best effort to enjoy myself, whilst not detracting from the enjoyments of my neighbours. In many cases, continually, I fall short of perfection in this; my humanity is inherent, but it's nothing to do with a "God out there," that watches my every move with a view to judgement and punishment.

      Here it rests with me: it's my stuff, my point of view, my choices. Not to be pushed upon others or used to judge others on my terms.

      Please keep up the good work you do, both here, in your other hubs and in helping people to navigate the selfish, greedy corruption that abounds in the Courts of Law.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 13 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Jonny,

      The hereafter has been debated among the best minds, the best academics, the best philosophers and the best religious leaders...and still, no one has "The Answer." Lots of opinions, lots of ideas, lots of theories, but I have yet to read the writings of anyone who can state as fact that they know for a certainty what happens at death and beyond. There are two elements in all decisions: the tangible and the intangible, that is, what we can touch and see, and that which we cannot. That which we cannot is usually accepted by faith, a faith that begins with a search for an answer based in logic.

      However, the more one researches the "logic" of God, the more confusing God becomes, and, yet, the more one studies "The Creator of All That Is," the more one comes to conclude that none of what we see is accidental or without cause. Since we can prove that we did not "cause" the universe, something capable of some pretty intense powers must be the reason, especially when one does simple logic and traces the universe back and back until there is no where left to go for a chicken or an egg. There is a beginning of everything, and finding that "beginning" is, in essence, finding The Creator. Who or what that "Creator" is has been the search of mankind since time began, thus the Bible and many other books that record man's search and time-sensitive explanations.

      The Four Questions (Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going when I leave here?), coupled with a universal law of physics, that being that nothing can be created or destroyed, particularly by humans, means that the energy that enervates our bodies must convert into something of equal mass and quantity once the human abode for that energy ceases to be alive and functioning. But, what does it convert into? An angel? A ghost? A spirit? Another life in the future? A flock of geese? An alien on another planet? The speculations go on infinitely, but the proofs do not exist.

      Brian

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