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In the simplest terms, sin is . . .

  • An abbreviation for the sine of an angle,[1] ratio of the length of the opposite side to the length of the hypotenuse in a right-angled triangle.
  • The wilderness/desert of Sin, a roadstop during the Book of Exodus.
  • The patron deity of the ancient city-state of Ur.
  • The airport code for Singapore Changi International: check your luggage tag. This is the real SIN city!
  • The willful act of breaking religious and/or moral laws
  • The innate desire to break religious and/or moral laws.
  • Perhaps, just being naughty.
  • Cardinal Sin

Origin of sin: The Biblical position[edit]

According to the Bible, sin originated when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil. As punishment for this act — known as the fall from grace and the act of original sin — all humans since Adam and Eve have lived a life of suffering and sinfulness.[2] (The question of why YHWH would put this tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden, then tell Adam and Eve not to eat its fruit — like the question of how they could be expected to know it was sin when they literally didn't have an inkling of right and wrong until they ate it — is one of those "mysteries of the divine" that fundamentalists choose to gloss over.)

The Christian concept of sin is the sense of having offended a personal God. This is, of course, the same God who demanded the genocide of the Amalekites (including women and children), out of the blue, two centuries after they hassled the Israelites. The same God who sets aside his own "eternal" commandment not to commit murder so that Samuel could kill their helpless, captive king and complete the genocide.

Origin of sin: one humanistic explanation[edit]

What Christianity calls "sin" is really our survival instincts kicking into action. Human society does not thrive when individuals think only of their own survival while ignoring the needs of others. Therefore, society needs law codes to rein in self-centeredness. Ancient societies called the more anti-social actions "sins." They involved their God/gods in the law codes to scare people into promoting civility and rejecting selfishness.

Sin in modern times[edit]

Although all Christian denominations have different ideas about what constitutes sin, many agree that sin can be roughly summed up as "anything we don't agree with the god we believe in has implicitly or explicitly told us not to do". Among other things considered sins by religions today are:

Sin and noetics[edit]

A number of modern Christian theologians, broadly starting with Stephen K. Moroney, think that sin can affect the human mind and its intellectual faculties. This has become a fun tool for presuppositionalists to bash atheists with: the truth of Christianity is simple — non-Christians can't believe true things because their minds have been distorted by sin.[4] (Unfalsifable? Circular? You betcha!)

Mortal and venial sins[edit]

In traditional Catholic theology, mortal sins are those sins which result in eternal damnation if not absolved by the sacraments before death. Venial sins are the less serious sins which do not threaten one's salvation.[5]

To be mortal, a sin must be (1) serious; (2) committed with full knowledge of its sinfulness, and of the gravity of its sinfulness; (3) committed with full consent. All three elements are necessary; the absence of any one of them will render the sin venial instead. While the first criterion, seriousness, is an objectively ascertainable matter of the nature of the act committed, the other two components are subjective factors of the mindset of the sinner. Thus, from mere knowledge of an act (e.g., abortion), we cannot say whether it is a mortal or venial sin in a particular case, only that it is potentially mortal; to know whether it actually be mortal or venial, we would need to know the mind of the sinner at the time of the sin.

While, in the Catholic view, venial sins do not immediately threaten one's salvation, they will result in temporal punishment in Purgatory after death, unless that punishment be remitted through indulgences. However, even though they do not immediately threaten one's salvation, they can lead to patterns of behaviour or character traits (vices) which can eventually lead to the commission of mortal sins.

Other Christians, especially Protestants, reject the distinction between mortal and venial sins. Protestants believe that everyone is equally damned due to original sin and all other sins are therefore just icing on the cake with regard to the damnation; however, they also believe in the concept of sola fide, by which all repented sins are forgiven through faith, even those committed after baptism. Some of the more doctrinaire Protestants, such as Calvinists, also believe that salvation, once gained, can never be lost at all (perseverance of the saints, a.k.a. "once saved always saved" or Predestination).

The seven deadly sins[edit]

At the end of the 6th century, Pope Gregory I (in office 590–604) established the list known today as the "seven deadly sins". He also assigned punishments in hell for each sin, as follows:

  • Pride: broken on the wheel.
  • Envy: put in freezing water.
  • Anger/Wrath: dismembered alive. (Haven't the souls in hell already transmigrated from their bodies?)
  • Sloth: cast into a snake pit. Admittedly, that will get one jumping.
  • Covetousness/Greed: boiled in oil.
  • Gluttony: forced to eat rats[6], toads[7], and snakes.[8] (But not donuts, apparently. Sorry, Homer.)
  • Lust: smothered in fire and brimstone.[9]

Just sit right back and you'll read a mnemonic, a mnemonic of the deadly sins[edit]

In 1964 a sitcom called Gilligan's Island debuted on CBS-TV. Created by Sherwood Schwartz — not a Catholic — the series featured seven characters who represented the seven deadly sins:

  • Gilligan: gluttony (always hungry)
  • "Skipper" Jonas Grumby: anger/wrath (always mad at Gilligan)
  • Thurston Howell III: covetousness/greed (obviously)
  • "Lovey" Howell: sloth (lived idly off her husband's wealth)
  • Ginger Grant: lust (inspired it in other men; lusted after the Professor)
  • "Professor" Roy Hinkley: pride (in his intellect)
  • Mary Ann Summers: envy (of Ginger's fame and sensuality)

There are several alternate models to the above. The most popular one assigns both gluttony and anger/wrath to the Skipper, and makes Gilligan into Satan. (He always wears red; the brim of his sailor's cap is bent out above his ears, resembling horns; and he always screws up the others' chances of escaping the island — his island.)[10]

And for the Gen Yers…[edit]

SpongeBob SquarePants, created by Stephen Hillenburg, also features characters who represent the sins.

  • Spongebob: Lust (he has an obsession with becoming the best or more popular, he often seems a little too close to Patrick, and he has an eerie quasi-sexual obsession with Squidward in the post-movie episodes, which are widely considered non-canon)
  • Patrick: Gluttony (big eater, and keeps wanting more than what he has)
  • Squidward: Pride (he takes incredible pride in his lousy paintings and music)
  • Mr. Krabs: Greed. (He has a lot of money and doesn't want to give anything away)
  • Sandy: Wrath (she is known to get incredibly angry and violent when offended, best example is when she blew up Patrick for calling Texas "dumb")
  • Plankton: Envy (he envies Mr. Krabs's business success)
  • Gary: Sloth (since he doesn't do what he's told often and depends on Spongebob. Well, he is a snail, but still.)

Patrick has been known to represent sloth and envy as well, and Gary has been known to represent gluttony.

If you think you're a hopeless sinner, just remember…[edit]

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"[11] including the Pope, Pat Robertson, Andrew Schlafly and the other chuckleheads at Conservapedia. Why do they consider themselves superior to everyone else? Pride would be a good guess.

See also[edit]


  1. Whatever reason mathematicians have for compressing the term into three letters surely is sinful.
  2. Genesis 3
  3. See also Heresy, Apostate and Infidel.
  4. How Sin Affects Scholarship: A New Model
  6. now available at a roadside food vendor near you!
  7. Sounds nutritious enough.
  8. This doesn't really seem like much of a punishment, because snake tastes amazing.
  9. "A Brief History of Sin": website [1]
  10. "The Seven Deadly Sins of Gilligan's Island": Gilligan's Island Fan Club Website [2]
  11. Romans 3:23, King James Version