It was last year - in May to be exact- that a long time atheist friend and my dear sister-in-law, Krimhilde (see photo) got together with wifey and myself to discuss religious issues, and in particular whether atheism had any 'commonality' points with a spiritual teaching such as Eckanckar.
Among the topics which came up were: 1) "original sin" and 2) sin in general.
On the first we all concurred, there is no such thing as "original sin" since infants can't enter the world with any such millstones. Original sin is merely a confection of theological idiots who take the "Adam & Eve" story literally. Humans are evolved apes and thus their behavior is totally explicable in terms of our Simian past and tri-partite brains composed of both more recent structures (e.g. neocortex) and more ancient ones (paleo-cortex, reticular formation).
The generic topic of sin overall, including the "seven deadly sins" was rife with much more debate, with Rick and I tending to the view that they didn't exist, period, and the word was simply invented to make humans ashamed of their animal selves, or their instincts - which yes, could sometimes go into overdrive. Krimhilde and wifey, meanwhile, leaned to a more moderated stance that 'sin' could indeed exist and cited mass murder, rape as examples. The atheist contingent, however, preferred to see those examples as aberrations or deviations. We disdained the term "sin" as too fraught with religious overtones.
In reality, “Sin” is predicated on an exaggerated importance of humans in the universe. Thus, it elevates (albeit in a perverse way) the importance of humans in an otherwise meaningless cosmos. With “sin” the overly self-important and morally smug, self-righteous human has at least the potential of offending his deity – thereby getting its attention – as opposed to being relegated to the status of a cosmic “roach” (which any advanced alien sentience would regard us). "Sin" is thus an attention getter to a Big Cosmic Daddy.
“Sin” then is a catch all term for any localized and reactive behavior, e.g. at the personal, individual level. In the strict religious idiom, “Sin” impinges on and affects the deity that so many believe in...so if a deity doesn't exist there can be no sin. Take away the deity, and the whole sin fetish, obsession loses its allure and quickly becomes redundant. How can there be “sin” if there is no deity to offend or to notice “sin”? To tote up all the little “black marks” in its “book of future judgment”.
Thus, we eventually agreed on the rational stance that "Sin" is a macguffin invented by religions to keep humans in an inferior state as opposed to attaining mastery over their lives. Sin is also a ridiculous concept. As Rick put it, how can a finite tiny flesh being "offend" a supposed infinite Being? it's totally ludicrous. If such a Being existed one could no more offend it than an ant could offend a human ten billion times its size by attacking the human's boot with his antenna!
Now, it appears that there may be actual benefits to "sin"! According to a new book, 'The Science of Sin' , by experimental psychologist Simon Laham, there are definite benefits that can accrue from ....well...for lack of a better term: Sin. In his book, he thereby shows how indulging in each of the "seven deadly sins" can be advantageous. (None other than Pope Gregory the Great popularized the seven deadlies in the 6th century.)
Laham's research discloses that these 'sins' and likely others, are much more complex and less simple than humans like to believe. (A point I've often made in arguing for an ethics based on scientific Materialism instead of bibles and canon laws).
Ramping up the ante much further are the essays in the book, 'In Defense of Sin', edited by John Portmann. Thus, we find stirring contributions under the chapter headers: 'In Defense of Idolatry'( One), 'In Defense of Lying'(Six), 'In Defense of Adultery'(Five), and 'In Defense of Lust' (Twelve).
In Chapter Twelve for example, John Portmann, the contributing author first describes St. Augustine's problems with lust as related in his 'Confessions'. Make no mistake here that this saint was over the top in his opposition to the flesh and its sinful ways. Much of this is derived from the fact that Augustine was originally a Manichean. The ancient Manicheans (founder Mani, b. 219 BCE) absolutely believed that the human was essentially a spark of deistic light locked within a body of flesh fashioned by 'Satan'. Of course, semen was the satanic fluid that kept the cycles of evil going.
Birth was the manifestation or culmination of the evil when the devilish flesh finally sprouted. Hence, enabling birth, was in effect tantamount to multiplying the total of diabolically imprisoned 'sparks' in the world. Since there was never any assurance these sparks could be liberated, it was paramount that the diabolical flesh be prevented from reproducing itself.
Interestingly, when Augustine converted to Christianity in 387 CE, the only Manichean tenet he ditched was the contraception. He retained all the other flesh/pleasure =demonic connotations and interjected them into his various teaching including his 'letters'. (For more on this, see the excellent monograph 'Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven' by Ute Ranke-Heinemann, Doubleday, 1990).
Augustine's Manichean teachings (after his conversion) held that any sexual pleasure whatsoever was diabolical in origin. However, it could be countenanced IF a baby was the end product. Otherwise, the offending parties were trafficking with demons. (He cites at one point, for "proof", the demon Asmodeus, who slew seven men in 7 beds with seven women, but not when they were sitting at a table.)
Augustine's harsh and sterile dogmas also probably spurred the Church Father Origen (of Adamantius) to cut off his own sexual organs - because he was unable to control them. Since each 'stimulus' enabled a particular demon to gain a foothold, it was better to get rid of them entirely.
In regard to Augustine's up tight views on sexual sins, Portmann writes (p. 223):
"Missing from Augustine is the idea that lust completes us (however temporarily), fills us with a vivid sense of being alive, propels us along the way to self-fulfillment...Lust like the playfulness of children or the treasures of the Louvre, lights up a rainy day."
The author also makes a good case for enhancing creativity before listing (including with reasons) all those things we think qualify as "sex" but which really aren't, including: Phone sex(lack of touching so can't be sex), ogling porno photos or videos (voyeurism, but not sex, doesn't make the touching or intimacy cut), flirting is not sex.
He also (rightly) rips into masturbation as sinful (p. 229) since it is based on a phantasm engineered by the early Church Fathers: to wit that each sperm is a "homunculus" or "little man" - hence then each and every sperm had to be protected - extended the same rights - as the big man in whom it lived. Thus, spilling it was a no-no (often confused with Onanism ....which was actually a different category of "sin" since it was an offense against the Hebrew law of succession. In this, the nearest male relative of the deceased husband is obligated to fertilize the wife. If he refused, and spilled his seed, he was guilty of onanism. This is different from the early Catholic view that each seelding is a little man with life of his own. (This position didn't change until after better optical resolution in microscopes was achieved and individual sperm could be as similar to single celled flagellate creatures.)
Once the actual sperm could be observed, as well as photographed, the Church's antiquated position was dispelled, and there was no more reason to oppose masturbation other than on an irrational basis. (Thus, the Church had to come up with its absurd "natural law" doctrine, which holds no weight since the RCs insisted at one time that slavery was justified under natural law).
Of course, it's much more difficult getting rid of the cultural, societal baggage which - if we could - might reduce teen pregnancies immensely. Again, a major benefit accuring from a once maligned "sin". (If we could only get teen males to see it as a useful release mechanism as opposed to a "loser's" option!)
But the point of the above is to show and highlight how irrational the whole concept of sin is. For those whose interest is piqued, I suggest getting the two books cited.