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What is a Sin?

Sin, in a religious setting, is a violation of divine/cultural law. Each culture has its own definition of what constitutes a sin. While sins are often defined as deeds, any thought, word, or deed deemed immoral, selfish, humiliating, damaging, or alienating may be classified as “sinful.”

Sin symbolizes an individual’s transgression against the divine law. The definition of committing a Sin is different in every culture because of their interpretations. Sins are usually considered immoral, shameful, selfish, harmful, or alienating actions, words, thoughts, or acts.

Original Sin

The condition of an Original Sin has been characterized in several ways ranging from something as invaluable as the tendency toward Sin, known as a Sin nature, to something as massive as total depravity. Total depravity is the teaching that Human beings are incapable of choosing to do good. This also includes the stipulation that the only reason Humans can still choose to do good is because of God’s grace.

The concept of original Sin was first mentioned in the second century by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon. This concept was mentioned in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Ambrosiaster recognized that all of humanity shared in Adam’s Sin. Hence, this idea was transmitted by the entire humankind. Augustine’s postulation of original Sin was popular among Protestant reformers, consisting of Martin Luther and John Calvin, after 412 CE. His formulation paralleled the idea of original Sin with concupiscence or ‘hurtful desire.’ This formulation affirmed that this notion persisted even after baptism and was responsible for destroying the freedom to do good.

Augustine said that before 412 CE, free will was weakened, but it was never entirely destroyed by original Sin. But after 412 CE, this changed to a loss of free will except for Sin. Modern Augustinian Calvinism holds this later view. The Catholic Church declares that Baptism erases original Sin. On the other hand, the Jansenist movement, which the Catholic Church said to be heretical, maintained that original Sin destroyed freedom of will. Methodist theology taught that original Sin could be eradicated through the entire sanctification of an individual.

Sin in Buddhism

There are several distinguishing views on Sin in Buddhist ideology. Brad Warner, an American Zen author, stated that there is no place for a concept of Sin in Buddhism. The Buddha Dharma Education Association expressed, “The idea of Sin or original Sin has no definite place in Buddhism.”

Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, an Ethnologist, postulated, In the Buddhist school of thought, the whole universe including the men and gods, are subject to a reign of law. Here, every action, either good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes. This effect is independent of the will and agency of any divine interventional or supernatural deity.

Even though this left no room for the idea of ‘Sin’ as an act of defiance against the control or authority of a personal god, Buddhists speak of Sin' when referring to transgressions against the universal moral code.

However, Anantarika-Kamma in Theravada Buddhism is a heinous crime. This crime is meant to bring about immediate disaster through the karmic process. In Mahayana Buddhism, five crimes are referred to as Pancanantarya (Pali) and are mentioned in The Sutra. The Buddha preaches them as a prerequisite for the Total Extinction of the Dharma. The five crimes or Sins are -

  1. Injuring Buddha
  2. Killing an Arhat
  3. Creating Schism in the society of Sangha
  4. Matricide
  5. Patricide

Sin in Christianity

The idea of Sin is the foundation of the religion of Christianity. This is mainly because the basic message behind this idea is redemption. Christian hamartiology denotes Sinas an act of offense against an individual’s God. One does this by going against the Christian biblical law and intentionally hurting others.

In Christian views, the human act of indulging in Sin is evil. This act violates the moral conduct and rational nature of man. It is also known for going against God’s nature and his eternal law. According to St. Augustine’s canonical definition of the term, Sin is “a word, deed, or desire that opposes the eternal law of God.” Hence, it requires redemption. It is a metaphor that alludes to atonement. This redemption is the reason why Jesus’s death became the price paid to release humankind from the faithful bondage of Sin.

Scholars and researchers have understood Sin mainly as a legal misdeed or a contract violation. This violation hints at an individual not binding with philosophical frameworks and perspectives or limitations of Christian ethics. In such a case, salvation is also viewed in legal terms. Other Christian scholars comprehend Sin to be a fundamentally relational concept. This concept denotes a loss of love for the Christian God due to an elevation of self-love (‘concupiscence,’ in this sense). The legal definition of Sin also affects the understanding of Christian grace and salvation, thus viewed in relational terms.

Sin in Islam

Sin is an essential notion in the studies of Islamic ethics. The believers of Islam see Sin as an act against the decree of God or Allah. It denotes a breach of norms and laws laid down by religion.

Islam postulates that Sin is not a state of being. It is an act. On the Day of Judgment, it is recognized that God weighs an individual’s good deeds against their Sins. God punishes those whose evil deeds outweigh their good ones. These individuals are sentenced to their afterlife in the fires of Hell. In Islam, the most commonly used terms for Sin are dhanb and khatia, synonymous with intentional Sins. Khit means simply Sin, and Ithm is a term used for grave Sins.

Sin in Judaism

In Judaism, any violation of the 613 commandments is considered a Sin. Judaism believes Sin to be a part of life. Assuming there is no perfect man, and everyone has some inclination to do evil, it cannot be avoided. Some Sins are punishable by the court, others by heaven, others with lashes, and others without punishment, but no intentional Sin goes without any consequence. Sins that are committed out of a lack of knowledge are not Sins. They are considered less severe than other Sins.

Even the completely righteous suffer for the Sins of their past life by humiliation, poverty, and suffering to receive their reward in the afterlife. Morally ambiguous characters repent their Sins after death and then join the righteous. Entirely evil people do not repent, even when they are at the gates of hell.

Jehoel Angel