Joyce asked, “Bruce, I’m looking forward to some exciting blog posts telling us all about the sin you’re doing now, and all the fun you’re having.” Her comment got me thinking about how I used to sin and how I now sin and the big difference there is between the two.
In my previous life, the life where I was a Christian and a pastor, my behavior was shaped by the Christian doctrine of sin and the various behaviors the Bible calls a sin. According to orthodox Christian teaching, sin is transgression of the law of God. Violating any of the commands, teachings, and precepts of the Bible, either by omission of commission, is a sin. According to the doctrine of original sin, every human, at the moment the egg is fertilized in their mother’s womb, becomes a sinner. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. We had no choice in the matter. Adam and Eve, representatives for the entire human race, transgressed the law of God when the ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Because of their transgression, every human is now a sinner. Thanks Mom and Dad!
According to most Christian sects, it is human sin that lies at the heart of almost every problem. Sin is the problem and salvation is the solution, preachers tells us. Because we all sinners, we are alienated from God. God is righteous and holy and any and every sin is a stench in his nostrils. As a wrathful, vengeful God, he demands that every sinner be tortured in the Lake of Fire after they die. This God, realizing that creating people and then allowing them to sin would create a huge PR problem for him, decided to take on human form, come to earth, live a sinless life, and die on a cross to provide atonement for the sins of some or all humans, depending on the theology of future Christians. Somehow, a god-man being spit on and tortured on a cross is supposed to appease the anger and wrath of the Christian God. It all seems quite confusing to me, but hundreds of millions of Christians believe this very bloody, horrific, contradictory story.
Hundreds of millions of people are taught, from birth forward, that they are sinners in need of redemption. God says they are a sinner, the Bible says they are a sinner, their pastor/priest says they are a sinner, their parents say they are a sinner, and their culture says they are a sinner. They are told that they need to repent and ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins. Then they need to start going to church and listening to and obeying their pastor/priest’s preaching. These men are commanded by God to remind church members of their sinfulness and their need of forgiveness. They are duty bound to recite the laws of God to the people, throwing in their own, peculiar interpretation of these laws. In fact, because they are so in touch with God, they have the liberty to add their own personal laws to the laws that must be kept by all Christians, that is as long as they can quote a Bible verse to justify their new law.
Growing up in a church environment that took God, the Bible, and sin seriously, by the time I was a teenager, I had an advanced degree in sinfulology. (i preferred the word sinology. but the word sinology means the study of Chinese history, language, and culture. Yea! I learned a new word today) From Genesis to Revelation, the law of God was drilled into my head. Even though the gospel message was salvation by grace, it became clear to me that the real gospel message was do this and thou shalt live. (and this gospel is preached by every Christian sect)
Of course, the problem I had was that even though I was a saved and forgiven sinner, I still sinned. The very laws that I was commanded to keep, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome, were still a problem for me. Even as a pastor, I was still quite the sinner. I just learned to hide it a lot better than the average Christian did. Needless to say, because I was human, I was quite a law breaking failure.
Christians love to talk about new life in Christ. They love to sing songs like Victory in Jesus and I Surrender All. They love to talk about overcoming sin and living a sanctified, holy life. While they give God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, all the praise and glory for their righteous life, it is quite evident that they are bragging about how much better of a person they are than anyone else. So much so that they often write a book so everyone can know exactly how to become a super-sanctified, top of the class, 1 percenter Christian just like them.
Other Christians realize that they will never reach Mount Zion so they reinterpret the Bible in such a way to lessen the demands of the law of God. They decry legalism and preach sermons on Christians not being under the law of God. To them, it is all about grace. And it is all bullshit. Here is how easy this is to prove…ask the free grace preacher if a gay Christian man and his lover, who just so happens to work as a male stripper, can join the church? This loving couple professes faith in Jesus. As children they were baptized in the Baptist church. Free grace, right? Surely, their gayness should be no impediment to them joining the church? R-i-g-h-t. I could spend hours coming up with stories that would quickly show how empty the free grace, we are not under the law, gospel really is. Every Christian sect, every church, every pastor/priest, and every church member has a list of non-negotiable behaviors they consider a sin. One church may have a longer sin list than another, but they ALL have them.
Since Christians, like their unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine brethren in the world, have a problem with breaking the laws of God, they are forced to come up with novel ways to cover up their sin. Catholics have the confessional and Baptists have the altar. Both are meant to provided a quick wash dishwasher like cleansing from sin. Evangelicals are encouraged to pray without ceasing. John R. Rice was fond of saying that Christians should keep their sin list short. According to Rice, as soon as the Holy Spirit convicts a person of their sin, they should immediately pray and ask for forgiveness. Of course, this kind of thinking results in a constant cycle of sin-guilt-repent-sin-guilt-repent. Rarely is the Christian free from the guilt of sin because sin is ever-present and they sin hourly and daily in thought, word, and deed. In fact, sin is so pervasive, that the Christian likely sins without even knowing it. (one wonders where the sin-convicting, sin-stopping Holy Spirit is)
Christians live with fear and guilt, whether they are willing to admit it or not. Many Christians want to think that they are not like those legalistic fundamentalists, but they seem to be oblivious to their own set of laws that they think every Christian must and should obey. They may try to obfuscate things by chasing the motive rabbit, suggesting that they try to keep God’s commands out of love rather than out of fear and guilt like the legalistic fundamentalist does. Nice try. Social reasons aside, remove fear and guilt from the repertoire of the preacher and in short order his church would be empty. Time for babes, beach, and beer, the boys of the church say.
Christians find novel ways of sinning without sinning. Take bywords. Many Christians think it is a sin to say words like shit, fuck, God damn, and son of a bitch. Many of us heathens, when we get angry we swear, but sanctified Baptists often use by words like shoot, crap, darn, gosh darn, son of a gun, or freaking when they get angry. See, they are not swearing!
As a fifteen year old boy, I skipped school one day so I could attend the Ohio Baptist Fellowship meeting that was being held at the church I attended. This was my opportunity, as a recently saved, called to preach teenager, to rub shoulders with the great Ohio BBF preachers. After the morning session, I was standing with my youth director and a group of preachers in the church parking lot. I reveled in the stories they told. One preacher decided to tell us about his solution to lust:
When you see a beautiful woman that turns your head, the first turn of the head is not sin. It is when you turn and look a second time that it is sin. So, just make sure your first look is a long one.
Everyone laughed, but as I think 40 years later about this story, it is a perfect illustration of how sinning can be turned into not sinning. Every preacher would agree that lust is a sin, right? But, God also made women beautiful and it is natural to look at them. (with sanctified, only looking at their eyes, gazes, of course) It is when the Christian man does a double take that he is lusting after a women. Of course, as any woman can tell us, most men are quite capable of undressing a woman with their eyes with one, long look. According to this preacher, this is just men enjoying the scenery.
I am sure many of you can tell stories about the novel ways used by people to sin without sinning. We have all heard preachers go wild in the pulpit over this or that, justifying their anger as righteous anger. Atheists like myself, especially those who were once preachers, often are attacked and vilified by supposed followers of Jesus. In their twisted mind, behavior that the Bible calls sin can be turned into virtue and standing up for God. There is no sin that can not be justified if the circumstances are right. (i.e. Christian America dropping atomic bombs on Japanese civilians in WW2)
What I have described above is dishonest sinning. Now, that I am a vile, wicked, evil, hell bound follower of Satan, I find that I am a much more honest sinner. First, the list of what I consider a sin, actually what I call bad behavior, is quite small. I no longer make it my business what consenting adults sexually do in the privacy of their home, office, car back seat, motel room, or beach. I no longer consider the Bible to be THE moral authority for all humans. I realize the situational morality and ethics are normal and that context is everything. Just because some preacher says something is a sin doesn’t make it so. I find that I am free to be a normal heterosexual man, freed from the guilt and fear of religion. Yes, there ya have it, I became an atheist, so I could sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin. (you know some Christian is going to say this, so I might as well just say it for them)
I have learned that I don’t need to feign shock and outrage when I see a woman’s breasts on TV. I can laugh with millions of others when HBO comedian John Oliver shows viewers a “picture” of Congressman Mitch McConnell’s dick in a hilarious bit about congressional campaigning in Kentucky. (you can see the 11 minute clip here. It is sexual, violent, and funny as hell) I have learned that I don’t need to pretend to avert my eyes when an attractive woman walks down the street. I have also learned that my wife knows when I am paying attention to the scenery.
I now know that anger, envy, lust, along with love, empathy, and compassion, are human emotions that I don’t need to be ashamed of. I have learned that beer and wine taste good, women aren’t sluts if they wear slacks, and depression is not a sign of spiritual weakness or sin. In fact, I have learned that most of the laws of God, as interpreted by frail, sinful, contradictory men, are only meant to control and demean. It’s not about living a better life in harmony with God, the environment, and each other. It’s all about making sure the sheep obey. (and the same could be said of some secular laws)
Most of all, I have learned that the Christian concepts of original sin, indwelling sin, coupled with fear of judgment, is quite harmful mentally and emotionally. I have corresponded with countless former Christians who are still shackled by the indoctrination of the past. They want to be free, to live authentically, but they still have twinges of fear when they do things that were once considered a sin. I can only imagine how horrified my wife’s fundamentalist family is as they read about our family’s sinful behaviors. I am sure they consider us a perfect example of what happens when people get out of the will of God. (in their mind we are still Christians, just out of God’s will, sure to be hammered by God in the near future)
In the mind of the Christian, I am an antinomian reveling in my love of sin. What I really am is a normal human being that respects the rights and space of other. Certainly, as we gather together in tribes, communities, and countries, we must develop guidelines by which we can all live in love, peace, and harmony. (cue the 1960′s) As Amimental is fond of saying, her governing law is, don’t be an asshole.
How about you? Did you find freedom once you left the shackles of Christianity? Was it hard for you at first, discerning between what was a hangover from your religious past and what you wanted your moral/ethical foundation to be? Pleas share your thoughts in the comment section.