A New Definition of Sin
[I hear you loud and clear: the title is too long. Yesterday I asked for your feedback on the title of my new book, The 7 Deadly Sins of the 21st Century. So many of you wrote in, and I’m grateful. I’ll be depending on your comments throughout the writing process.So now, feast on this: As promised, here is an excerpt with my new definition of sin in the 21st century:]
There is something wrong with the world today. You know it, and I know it, or at the very least we can feel it. We are living in the future we always imagined, with more connectivity to more people and more information than ever before. But are we happier? Are we less anxious? Are we more at peace with ourselves and others?
No. No, we are not.
The technology we worship has not saved us from the stress of life and strife, but it has amused us, busied us, and distracted us in ways we didn’t know was possible. It has also divided us, and addicted us to itself, like nothing else in human history. Perhaps the worst part is this: it has tempted us with new ways to sin.
We’ve always struggled with sin, and the old vices of pride, lust, envy, etc. will always be with us. But the 21st century has given us some new ways to sin against ourselves and others—choices we make that go against our better judgment, habits we practice that steadily make our lives worse, and systems we help create that make it harder for whole groups of people to ever substantially improve their lives.
For the 21st century, we need a definition of sin that’s more currently relevant, more scientific, more personal, and more empowering for all folks who wish to truly change. Why? Because we all still feel, on a DNA level, that something is wrong with the world. Something is wrong with the world in general, and with our lives specifically. Plus, we all need to follow truths that give us power and methods to improve our world and our lives. Doing God’s good by avoiding the Devil’s evil simply doesn’t translate into responsible, compassionate behavior on a large scale anymore. And waiting till death or judgment to know our record of righteousness, and living in fear until then, doesn’t leave most modern people in a state of peaceful love for one another. The old definitions of sin simply don’t work anymore.
So, what does it mean to “sin” in the 21st century? What I’ve come to believe is this: Sin is avoiding reality, and all it wants from us, and evading the present moment, the only thing that truly exists. Sin is whatever we do to avoid or escape the Here, the Now, and the Real.
By this definition, picking up your phone and glazing through an app, to avoid the awkward lull in your current conversation? That’s sinful. Starting yet another task in order to multitask, and thereby avoiding the truly productive work of concentrating on the one job in front of you? That’s sin as well. What about judging yourself to be superior because your social media profile has prettier pictures and more followers, or inferior because you simply kept scrolling until you met your match, all the while using both comparisons to avoid the work of loving yourself and others as is? Yep, that’s sin. And we all know it.
Turns out there are a number of behaviors we do in the 21st century that particularly qualify as sinful, according to this definition of sin. Seven, to be exact. These seven sins are the specifically modern ways we are making our world, and ourselves, more miserable. This is amazingly ironic, because they are all committed in the name of making ourselves happier. By avoiding the power of the present, in order to somehow live in the past or escape to the future, we ironically limit our ability to learn from the past and actually change the future. The only way future moments improve is to fully exist in the current one. We call these seven sins “deadly” because the more we practice them, the less capable we are of feeling truly alive.
I know this language will make some people very nervous. These words even sound like heresy to some ardent believers in their religion. What I hope to achieve is a conversation about integration, allowing people to hold on to their dearest beliefs about God and the afterlife, all the while learning a few things about how, despite those dearest beliefs, they don’t feel very peaceful or happy right now.
What’s needed, however, is a new definition of sin that fits with this universal experience. “Violating God’s law” doesn’t carry much weight in positively changing people’s behavior these days, nor does it fit with everyone’s worldview. What this book proposes is a new definition of sin, one which could actually unify people of faith and their secular neighbors, and actually help us all confront our habits and change our ways.
Peace begins with pause,