Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Struggle Against Sin

While reading Hebrews 12 I came across this idea of a constant struggle against sin. This plays into the whole idea that we all have a sinful nature and have to constantly fight against our impulses. I tried to think of any of my impulses that I usually have to fight against and I couldn't really think of much. I generally know what the right thing to do is, and I am generally compelled to do it just because I know it is right, or because I care about the other people who are affected by my actions.

So I tried to think of a scenario where I would have somewhat of a moral quandary, suppose I was out on a walk and I found a wallet on the ground. While searching inside for a license I notice that there is a lot of money it is, say $1000. I could very easily take that money and then return the wallet, and it would just look like the guy had his wallet stolen by someone else who took the money and ditched the rest, and I found it and returned it. Most likely I could get away with it. If I found myself in that situation, chances are that the thought would go through my head, but I wouldn't really take the money, for one thing I would feel guilty as I know how I would feel if the situation was reversed.

By considering this hypothetical and imagining myself taking the money, am I demonstrating my sinful nature? I would argue the opposite, the fact that I wouldn't in the end take the money shows that I am a good person. And I don't think I am special here, I think most people would do the same. We might fantasize about having that money, especially if we are in a tough financial situation, but ultimately I think very few people would take the money.

How would I have analyzed this when I was a Christian? I would have viewed this as an example of my constant struggle against sin. The simple fact that I considered taking the money shows what a terrible person I am. The fact that I wouldn't take the money in the end isn't because I considered the other person, it is because God helped me overcome my sinful nature and kept me from stealing, which is my heart's desire. I don't know how widespread this type of mentality is, but it is exactly how I used to think. I would construct these scenarios and come up with possible ways to respond. Any bad possibility that I could come up with was just evidence of the evil person I was, anything good was just God working through me.

Was this the intended message from the church? No, I don't think so, I'm sure I took it too far, I tend to do that. But was I really that far out on a limb? All my life I heard that we all struggle against sin, that we have an inherently sinful nature, that we deserve to be tortured for eternity. These are dangerous messages to send to children. Tell someone they are a sinful piece of shit their whole childhood and they just might believe it.


  1. Since the bible views a lot of aspects of sexuality sinful, those attractions and impulses could be the struggle against sin they refer to. Since we don't consider sex immoral, we might not consider that. Also, some people probably do struggle against more authentically immoral impulses. A serial killer's compulsion to kill is the more extreme example, but other types struggling with addicitions could qualify. Maybe some of those people contributed to the bible.

    1. That's very true, they also use sex as an example of why we have to constantly struggle against sin. That's actually probably a better argument than the one I made here, since pretty much everybody wants sex, if you could convince them that wanting sex is evil then you can easily spread your message that everyone is evil. And of course they need to convince us that we have a disease so they can give us the cure.

      It's funny (not funny haha, funny stabstab), I threw this post together at the end of the day on friday (I usually have these done earlier in the week but it has been a busy week). When I started writing I just had the germ of an idea and I ran with it, I thought it would be a quick post, no big deal, but as I was finishing it, (and as I'm reading it again this morning), I'm getting a bit worked up. This type of message is a large part of why I was so unhappy while I was growing up, especially in high school. Yes, I know everyone has trouble in high school, but in addition to all of the normal reasons teenagers have for being angsty, I genuinely thought I was a piece of shit. Would I have had bouts of depression anyway? Maybe, but I guarantee this bullshit made it worse.

  2. Great point, Hausdorff. It is amazing how much perspective shifts the view of reality.

  3. I always thought that there was a big difference between God giving you "urges" and "temptations" to test you and try to make you a stronger person and another to blame you for him creating you that way.

    1. Yeah, there is definitely a bit of a juggling act necessary to fit both ideas into your head at the same time. It definitely reminds me of the story of the bees (explained here) where if they aren't challenged they will be weak and useless. So by this idea, God gave us those urges to so we would overcome them and be stronger I guess. If you can't overcome them it is your fault, but as you said, God made you in such a way that you would ultimately fail, then they would cite free will.

      This post is dredging up memories of the various contradictions I used to keep in my head and the crazy rationalizations I would come up with. It's interesting but somewhat unsettling.

  4. I'd take the money. I'd take it because I need it. If I didn't have the presence of mind to remember to keep track of my money, I would expect it to be taken. There is no good or evil, only societal constructs that shift continuously depending on time and place.

    I feel that by receiving a consequence for the error of losing track of your money, you are conversely effected to REMEMBER TO KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SHIT. This, to me, is moral as it helps correct the error in the population and therefore, however indirectly, contributes in a positive way to the evolutionary process.

    This is what is commonly known as "social darwinism" and is not a good way to run a country. However in interpersonal social society I believe it is a duty. To use a famous authors words,"one must have social standards one must maintain, mustn't one?"

    I agree with the rest of the article, being an ex-theist myself. It just seems to me you are arbitrarily assigning the labels of right and wrong to a very specific situation, much as theists are guilty of doing.

    1. Hello, and thanks for stopping by and commenting. I want to focus on 2 things you said.

      "There is no good or evil, only societal constructs that shift continuously depending on time and place."

      "It just seems to me you are arbitrarily assigning the labels of right and wrong to a very specific situation,"

      I actually completely agree with this. Unfortunately, we have these words, good, evil, right, wrong that have all kinds of different but similar meanings to them. When I say right and wrong or good and evil, I am not trying to appeal to some fundamental objective sense of those words, but rather my impression of those words based on the society I live in. I stand by my statement that the right thing to do is to leave the money in the wallet, but what is that based on? I think it is mostly based on putting myself in the other person's shoes. But I guess I think this is more of a general guideline than a hard and fast rule.

      You bring up a good point that there is perhaps a lesson to be learned here. I'm sure there are times when taking the money would teach them a lesson to keep track of their shit, and it might prevent them from losing something much more valuable in the future. In this situation you might actually do them a favor by taking the money. On the other hand it is also possible that the fear that they have lost the money will be enough for them to learn the lesson, and you actually taking the money won't help them. I don't think it's easy to know which situation you are in.

      There are also countless other ins and out that could potentially change the situation that would push things one way or the other, but on the whole, to me it seems like the right thing to do is to return the money.


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