Go and Sin no More

Let’s talk about sin. We don’t talk about sin enough, I’ve noticed. We’re very slack that way. Very lax. Very slothy and loose and – well – sinful. So let’s give it a look-see.

First let’s see what a godless philosophy type has to say about it.

…ideas of right and wrong can be entirely separated from ideas of what is sinful. Aristotle, for example, thought of good and bad in terms of what allowed human beings to flourish as rational animals, with no reference to God’s will. Whereas sin separates us from the divine, doing wrong separates us from our true natures or our fellow humans.

Got it. Okay. Sin separates us from the divine, so for those of us who don’t think the divine is actually there (or divine if it is there, in fact if it is there it’s a right bastard, so separation from it is just what we want, as far off as possible, please), sin separates us from an empty signifier, so it turns out we don’t need to talk about it much, because there’s nothing much to talk about. Got it. Now let’s see what a goddy type has to say about it.

Julian Baggini’s article on sin (G2, May 9) misunderstands the significance of sin. There is in fact no distinction to be made between doing something contrary to God’s will, and doing something contrary to our own good. The Aristotelian guiding principle of human happiness, to which Baggini refers, is not intrinsically without reference to God’s will – if human beings have been created by God, then the happiness of the rational animal will involve conformity to God’s will, as only God can satisfy the human body and soul.

Yes, ‘if’. Certainly, ‘if’. Of course, ‘if’. But that’s just it. If. You think the answer to the question implicit in that ‘if’ is yes, but others of us think it is no, so it’s slightly pointless to re-inform us of what follows from answering yes when we in fact answer no. The people who answer yes mostly already take your point (sort of, more or less, perhaps with some leeway), but you’re addressing Julian and the rest of us no-sayers, on whom your argument is wasted, because it relies so heavily on that ‘if’. In fact since our answer to the implicit question is No, we tend to think that the putative conformity to God’s will is in fact conformity to what a long line of church boffins and theocrats have asserted God’s will to be, and we prefer not to conform to that, thanks.

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