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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sin - To Be or Not To Be?

"I got sin all around me."
~ The Carter Brothers

"A lot of liberal, progressive people are afraid of the word sin..." 
~ Rachel Held Evans

Someone shared with me an interview with Christian writer Rachel Held Evans that has me thinking.

What exactly is "sin?"  

One widely accepted and simple definition is: any thought, word, or deed that separates us from God.  If this is true then, as the Carter Brothers sing in their song, there really is "sin all around" us.  

Another classic, and dominate, understanding of sin is as a state of being in which sin is not something we do but rather who we are.  If this is true, we have no choice but to "be" sinners. We live in "original sin."  This, by the way, also separates us from God from the get go. 

Regardless of which perspective one takes, the objective of religion, and especially Christianity, is to save us from sin by offering atonement. 

Atonement has taken on many forms throughout human history, mostly in the form of "substitutionary atonement" which simply means someone, something, or some action becomes a substitute for our sin thus erasing it.  This is accomplished through sacrifice and sacrificial scapegoats made to appease angry, demanding god or gods.  The sacrifice can also be more humane, requiring denial of pleasure and joy, restitution for wrong deeds, or public confession of sins or sinfulness.  Through these "substitutionary" sacrifices we are forgiven, reunited with the disgruntled divine, and saved.  

If this is the kind of sin Ms Held refers to in the quote (and article) above then there is good reason to be "afraid" of it.  One problem with believing all humans are innately sinners is that you can't really trust anyone, even yourself. Even being saved creates separation between the saved and unsaved, the godly and the ungodly.  Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement actually perpetuate the separation from which they claim to save.

There is, however, another way to perceive sin and experience salvation. "Incarnational atonement" recognizes the incarnate presence of the divine throughout creation and humanity.  In the Judeo-Chrisitian story this is identified immediately when God breathes creation into existence, then forms humans from the earth in God's image with God's breath while proclaiming all of creation as "very good."  But, as the story goes, we quickly forget who we really are and succumb to an illusion that somehow we are separated from God by our destructive actions thus triggering the whole substitutionary salvation system.

Incarnational atonement also has its "original sin" - amnesia!  Forgetting we are the image and breath of the divine is the beginning of separation.  To use more contemporary language, forgetting we are socially, economically, environmentally, psychologically, emotionally, politically, and spiritually interconnected and interdependent with each other and all creation leads to destructive thoughts, words and deeds, creating separation and violence.

Salvation is remembering we are not separate from creation, each other , or God.  As Jesus says to his disciples, "I am in God. God is in me. And I am in you."  Paul puts it this way, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God."  It is also the "Shalom" of Judaism, "One" of Buddhism, the "Way" of Taoism, and "Tawhid" of Islam.  One might even say that we all have Divine DNA!

So, again Ms. Held is correct.  We should be afraid of forgetting who we are. However, when we remember, keep remembering, and live accordingly the result is we can trust one another because once we know the Divine Presence in our lives we see it in others. We know that even behind what she calls "the weight of many, many centuries of injustice," lies the presence of the Divine.  

What kind of religion or "church" do you want?  One that continually reminds you that you are a hopeless sinner without someone or something being sacrificed for you, separating the saved from the unsaved, or one that calls you to remember that you and everything and everybody are created in the image and breath of Divine Goodness, uniting us as one?

Actually I'm wondering if too many of us religious people are so busy embracing our sinfulness because we are afraid of admitting our own Divinity.  Fear runs both ways.  

However, the first and last words of the Gospel are "Fear not!"  I believe this means do not be afraid of who you really are, the image and breath of God.  



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