Sin and guilt

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.

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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6 Responses to Sin and guilt

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Jean. I think that guilt-inducing brainwashing is a form of abuse. Would the God of Love have ever said such a thing?


  2. Jean says:

    In the church I grew up in, we had to say “We have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and there is no health in us.” What a message to give to a child!

    There is a lot of health in not acting on thoughts and carefully expressing those thoughts only in ways that do no harm.


  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    …which is why I’ve been thinking about such issues. Oh, if everyone was like us! 🙂

    But there is my second point. The thoughts, impulses, urges we have spontaneously come to us are a measure of our level of spiritual development.


  4. Veronica-Mae Soar says:

    It is not the situations we find ourselves in, it is the way we choose to react. We can meet someone with anger or not, it is our choice, Seeing someone as sexy is not the same thing as being eaten up with the desire to take what belongs to someone else.(which is what covet means)

    Personally I think that although YOU may not call them sins, what were first called the seven deadly sins are very much alive in today’s world. Look around you and (sadly) you will see Avarice, Envy, Pride (or Vanity) Anger (or Wrath), Greed, Lust and Jealousy, everywhere.

    Have you read Dante ? .


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thanks for visiting again, Veronica-Mae.
      I have read Dante, when I was about 17, but not since. 🙂
      I agree about all those sins. What I object to is defining a thought, urge or wish as something deserving of guilt. If I have such an inner, private event and refuse to give into it, then I am being a good person, and in fact, as with my case study of the policeman, a far better person than if I had never been tempted.


      • Veronica-Mae Soar says:

        i agree, We all have thoughts. However – who said the thought is father to the deed ? We have to take care that this does not happen.
        It is those who do not even think about what they are doing. as they engage in dreadful acts, who make this world a much less pleasant place than it might otherwise be. .


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