The concept of sin is the most effective form of control ever invented. I reject it. Particularly, “original sin” is ridiculous: that people now should feel faulty and blemished because of what a couple were supposed to have done thousands of generations ago. Even as a teenager, I felt that no deity could be that unreasonable.
The tenth commandment states:
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
This is an ideal tool for thought policing. If I were to see my neighbour’s wife as irresistibly attractive, and had wet dreams about her, this would not be an intentional reaction. I didn’t decide one day that I would find her sexy. If there is no intention to feel this way, then in a very real sense, I am not responsible for my reaction. Therefore, how can I be held guilty for it?
If a colleague has been promoted into the position I consider myself to be more suitable for, and I am eaten up by envy, again, I didn’t ask for my response. It happened. If now involuntary thoughts consume me about murdering him, does that turn me into a murderer?
I once assisted a younger therapist with a client, who was a policeman. My friend was on placement in a Christian counselling centre. This man in his 40s came in, and presented with a mild issue for a couple of sessions. That was the “calling card.” When he decided to trust the therapist, he came out with the real problem.
Ever since puberty, this man had strong sexual feelings for little children, male or female. Every time he saw a small child, he had involuntary fantasies of various forms of sexual contact. This horrified him, and he had been suicidal many times. He avoided romantic associations with girls, and later with women, because of the risk of having a child, whom he would then be tempted to sexually abuse. He joined the police, and managed to get into the sexual abuse squad, and had in fact had arrested many so-called paedophiles. This made him feel good for having protected children, and incredibly guilty, because he felt he was as bad, and should have been in jail himself.
He had never done any harm to a child, or to anyone else.
OK, was he a saint or a monster?
For me, there is absolutely no difficulty in avoiding sexual contact with children. It therefore takes no particular strength for me to avoid doing so. I am just lucky in this way. But this man was severely tempted many times, and nevertheless managed to stick to his moral code. This is enormously wonderful.
Given his Christian beliefs, my colleague and I worked out a way for the policeman to gain inner peace. I got him to say to the client something like this:
“In the Bible, it says that Satan tempted Jesus: ‘All this is yours if you only bow down to me.’ Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, agonising over this, and eventually replied: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ that is, ‘Piss off!’ And probably, He couldn’t have carried out His mission if he hadn’t been tempted this way. Isn’t this exactly what you have been doing?”
We put it to him that perhaps, before he was born, he and God arranged a situation for him to be able to attain maximum spiritual growth, and his sexual urges were it. By resisting actions against his moral code, he has grown into an admirable person.
His automatic sexual impulses didn’t cease, but he could now accept them with peace in his heart. He had indeed benefited from his karmic burden.
So, you are not your thoughts, impulses, emotions, but your actions. If you do good, you are a good person, regardless of what goes on within your mind.
However, I have a second way of looking at things. All of us are somewhere along a journey from being infant souls with no empathy to becoming enlightened. The role of suffering is to goad us along the way toward spiritual maturity. But how do we know our current level of development?
I think that our automatic urges, thoughts, reactions are the measure. Buddhist philosophy refers to “sankharas.” The best translation of “sankhara” is “construction.” One of my lifelong sankharas has been justifiable violence. When I was young, I only ever got into fights when protecting the victims of bullying — but then I was savage. I grew out of this, and nowadays use positive means of achieving the same end. All the same, while I have achieved behavioural growth, I can still have dreams, and daytime fantasies, in which I cause severe physical damage to those who hurt others. The sankhara is controlled, but still there.
This is one indication to me that I am not yet ready for enlightenment. It is a measure of the maturity of my spirit.
So, there is no sin. Guilt is a waste of time and emotion. But responsibility for our actions is essential, and our urges and impulses are well worth working on.