There’s a crazy notion on the loose. Why do people think they’re prone to being ‘bad’? I keep getting irritated with the idea of ‘sin’ – it’s so clear what a terrible mess it makes of people’s behaviour. Why am I feeling immune to the ‘temptations’ and ‘weak moments’ that everyone else is rabbiting on about? Where on earth does this strange misconception about life and behaviour come from?
There are several explanations for the notion of sin that bring it into the real world. I’ve put them in three handy groups with some helpful suggestions.
1. behaviour that goes against religious rules
There is lots of behaviour that is labelled as ‘bad’ in lots of religions, and it breaks down nicely in three groups.
A. Some of it is common sense that any human can work out in the course of a lifetime. Things that ultimately lead to less stability and poorer quality of life for our offspring. For example, murder and theft. This is especially true at this point in time, when most of us aren’t fighting for food and territory just to survive.
B. Some of it is based on situations that are no longer relevant. The institution of marriage and discouragement of sexual relations outside marriage, to some extent made sense in the days before birth control. This attempt to ensure that children were brought up in stable, protective environments, and that women weren’t left alone to deal with the consequences of unprotected sex, made a lot of sense. Now that people can have sex and, with proper education, make informed decisions about whether or not to attempt breeding, suggesting that sex should only occur within a marriage has no basis.
C. Some of it is nonsense. It’s just random prejudice or notions that occurred to the men writing the rules that they ascribed to a deity. Don’t mix cotton and linen fibres. Eat cows but don’t eat pigs, or eat pigs but don’t eat cows. Women should be submissive to men. Homosexuality is wrong. Male and female genitalia should be cut and/or sewn up. You get the idea. If there is no logical justification for it, if the negative outcomes outweigh the positive outcomes for the rule, you really shouldn’t follow a random rule. Use your common sense.
2. behaviour that disappoints those around us
This can often be put down to a cultural moral compass. Behaviour that society around about us disapproves of, making people feel bad for the way they behave. Let’s break this down too, if only to make my rant look pretty.
A. Unjustified judgments. This is very similar to the previous point – if there’s no justifiable reason for the attitude, then there’s a good chance it’s just prejudiced nonsense. Make the disappointed person or people give you actual reasons for their beliefs about your behaviour – logical reasons that weigh up positive and negative consequences. If you all live a sheltered life, use the internet to check what’s happening in the real world.
I have no time for anyone who thinks homosexuality is ‘wrong’ but has never spent time with a homosexual couple. If you don’t know any personally, google some articles or blogs to try and understand a bit more about how it works. Think about the real damage that suppressing natural feelings brings, and think about the imaginary damage to society that small-minded people afraid of change and relying on their cultural moral compass can only speculate about.
B. Justified judgements. It’s important not to discard the views of other people too quickly. We need to listen to reasons they give for their attitude and logically weigh it up. Civil laws may well come under this banner, but they too are subject to revision and change. If you think a law you are expected to abide by is nonsense, it’s best to attempt to follow it and campaign for a change. Because there may be something about the law you yet don’t understand, and, unlike religious rules, laws always have stated reasons behind them.
3. behaviour that disappoints us about ourselves
This is probably the trickiest part because I have difficult relating to it, but I’ll try my best. Try following these suggestions:
A. Set achievable standards for yourself. I’m probably the laziest person I know. I could easily sleep 10 hours a night and still indulge in a couple of daytime naps. This results in an often not very productive life, which I’m sure some would view as sinful. But I’m not going to kick myself about it, get in a tizzy, and feel guilty and useless. I just accept that biologically that’s what I do. And besides, when I’m able to indulge in a high level of resting, I’m a more pleasant person and treat other people better, so it’s a win win situation on some fronts at least.
Be careful that the behaviour you think is disappointing you is something you do care about and need to change, and not something that another person convinces you is important because of their personal abilities or priorities. I’m impressed by people who get loads of things done but I don’t really want to be like them.
B. Blame your parents for your any abuse or neglect you suffered as a child that has resulted in low self-esteem, self-destructive tendencies or difficulty in controlling your behaviour. BUT accept the past can’t be changed, they didn’t know any better, and as an adult it’s up to you to seek ways of dealing with this. Find out what works best for you – hill walking, therapy, voluntary work, blogging, art, pets, music, physical labour, or something completely different.
Try not to wallow in the unjust nature of your existence, and try not to stay in therapy for too long, in case you get in the habit of thinking about yourself incessantly and constantly picking old wounds. Try not to worry about instantly controlling anything that irritates you, give yourself time to change behaviour that is unproductive. Try to change it if that’s the most fruitful course of action, but never hate yourself in the process. And don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s an abstract-notion-apple-eating-consequence-evil-devil-tricking sin. Remember that whatever the behaviour, there are real-life biological or psychological reasons for it, and if you want to, you can probably change it.
I think that nicely sums it up, and I eagerly await your collective praise on a job splendidly done!