A lot of pagans mistakenly believe that sin is a concept that originated in Abrahamic religion. I used to personally hold this belief myself until I started learning about the Canaanites. Like many other concepts and practices, the idea of sin has it’s origins in ancient pagan religions. In Canaan the concept of sin was called khats’a. The Canaanite understanding differed greatly than how it’s understood in Christianity. In Christianity sin is understood to be an action which goes against the Christian god’s will. In Canaan sin is understood to be a negative action which causes universal or communal imbalance. In Tess Dawson book “The Horned Altar” (go to page 27) she mentions that there were three categories of sin in ancient Canaan, which were (in my wording):
1. Being insensitive and or disrespectful to the customs and norms of other cultures when you are on their turf.
2. Disobeying your own culture’s laws, norms and standards.
3. Accidental or purposeful misdeed during religious ritual.
Sometimes khats’a would be punished by a deity, but more often consequences for misdeeds were left up to cause and effect.
While I find the Canaanite understanding of sin to be a thousand times more reasonable than the Christian understanding, it’s not something I have adopted into my pagan practice, and it’s not something I plan to do. And to be honest this has everything to do with my Evangelical upbringing. Catholics are well known for their guilt complexes, but Evangelicals love themselves some guilt induced self-degradation too.
My introduction to sin and it’s “consequences” started when I was very young, I want to say 2rd or 3th grade. It was this early when I was first taught about Satan and Hell, and about the fallen evil nature of humanity. Later on I would learn about thought crimes. I’ve noticed, many people not familiar with the Bible and Christianity like to blame bullshit like thought crimes on Evangelicals and Fundamentalists being crazy and extreme, but this idea came straight from Jesus.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27 – 28 NIV
“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” 1 John 3:15 NIV
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 NIV
(You could see why the Duggar girls were so quick to “forgive” Josh Duggar for molesting them. Because according to Jesus himself, rightfully staying angry at Josh would have put their souls at risk for hell fire. But I digress.)
So younger me was not only worried and feeling guilty about actual misdeeds done, but for simply thinking unapproved thoughts. (Thanks Jesus.) Because in Evangelical Christianity deed and thought are one the same, and both carry the the same punishment, death and eternal torture. This is because sin is though of being disobedience to the Abrahamic god. His offense is the primary concern, any harm done to the self, another person or society cause by the misdeed is secondary. This is also why actions that are victim-less (consensual premarital or homosexual sex, moderate alcohol or drug use, dirty dancing, causal cussing, etc) are still considered sins even if they bring no physical or emotional harm if done responsibly. Evangelicals believe these things personally get Yahweh’s goat therefore they are capital crimes worthy of capital punishment (death and Hell).
Even though I was a total L7 at age 19, and really wasn’t doing anything “bad” in particular, I felt like I was constantly sinning. Going over the speed limit. Sin. Thinking sexy thoughts about a crush. Sin. Failing to complete a school assignment. Sin. Splurging on CD’s instead of using money more productively. Sin. Failing to do the dishes. Sin. Listening to music that contains course language. Sin. Watching R rated movies. Sin. Questioning doctrine. Sin. Failing to make the Christian god my number one priority, every second of every day. Sin. Being angry. Being sad. Feeling horny. Not talking to more people about Jesus and Christianity. Not reading the Bible enough. Not being devoted enough. Sin. Sin. Sin. I was sinning all the time and there was nothing I could do to stop it because I had been taught that pretty much everything was a sin. And someone who constantly does bad things and can’t stop is a bad person. This meant I was a bad person, and worthy of Hell. And this sort of thinking obviously isn’t healthy, not at all.
Becoming a neopagan and leaving behind the concept of sin was one of the most freeing experiences in my life, and I have little interest in reintroducing the concept. Giving up the concept of sin was like being able to breath freely for the first time. Much like someone who partied too hard in high school, and can’t stand to be around alcohol and drugs in their adult years, I am utterly burnt out on the concept of sin, atonement, and begging for divine forgiveness for simply being human. 10+ years after Christianity I’m still so burnt out. Burnt out for life…
That doesn’t mean I think I am the embodiment of perfection, or that I don’t recognize that humans are flawed creatures. But there is a difference between understanding that humans have flaws and weaknesses and embracing the concept of sin. Sin is not only misdeed and/or disobedience, but the idea that misdeed and/or disobedience spiritually stains people, and removing that stain usually requires divine intervention. I don’t think the concept of sin will ever be something I could embrace in a healthy way, and I don’t need that added internal drama in my life.