Friday 7 June 2024

"Why not sin?" Should rather be conceptualized as: "Why be Good?"

Why not sin? 

First - we need to get rid of the double-negative theology implicit in "why not sin" and reconceptualise the problem as the positively aspirational: "Why be Good?". 

After all; I understand sin to be any and all departures from the positive situation of living in full harmony with the wholly-loving aims and nature of God's ongoing creation. 

"A sin" is thus any thing - any impulse, thought, action - which does not harmonize with divine love. There are therefore innumerable "sins", and everybody "sins" nearly-all of the time. 

Since sin is best defined in terms of departure from Good; it is clearly much better (positively) to aim at being-Good - rather than (negatively) trying not-to-do not-Good! 

(To get some-place - i.e. heaven - it is insufficient to be told when we stray off the path; we most need to know where we are going, and how to get there!)

For me; the answer to "Why be Good?" is that I desire to live "wholly by Love" - to live in accordance with God's ongoing divine creation - which derives from God's love, and is motivated by love. 

Indeed; anyone who wants Heaven, surely wants to live by love? 

(Else why would he want Heaven forever?

Expressed otherwise: Why on earth would anyone who ultimately desired to live eternally in complete accordance with love; not want to do so here-and-now, and all of the time? 

Wanting to live by love is just characteristic of the kind-of-person who wants eternally to dwell in Heaven after death. 

Yet of course we are tempted - over and again, very frequently - to live other-than by full accordance with love: to live out-of-harmony with divine creation, because it is short-term gratifying for us to do so. 

And therefore we often fail to resist these temptations; and we sin for much of the time. 

So we do not, as a matter of fact, resist temptation - and we do instead often choose to live out-of-harmony with divine creation. 

Given that fact; it might be asked: why should we even try to resist temptation? 

Why - since we fail all the time, and will continue to fail - don't we just accept the reality of sin; and sin whenever it is gratifying or convenient?

But I have already answered that question. 

The answer to "Why be Good?" is: 

If I am someone who desires resurrected eternal life in Heaven; then no matter how often and badly I fail to live the Heavenly life during this earthly mortal life - I will never stop repenting my failures, and never cease from trying to live better; simply because a life in harmony with God's loving creation is the life I want, more than I want anything else. 

H/T To David Earle for a comment that helped trigger this post.  


Hagel said...

"Why be good?" Because I want to

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hagel - "Because I want to"

Somehow, that answer - on its own - doesn't seem to satisfy...

David Earle said...

One of the things that has become very apparent to me personally in the last couple of years is that I struggle with worrying. I'm beginning to suspect that much of my personality is built-up on worrying and it is now colliding with reality and becoming more obviously a problem than previously recognized.

I recognize my tendency to worry all the time lately and it is difficult to stop. But to focus solely on not-worrying would be a double negative. I should focus on trusting in God that things will work out for my long term spiritual benefit, and repent when I do worry and remind myself of this. Next week probably won't go disastrously wrong, but even if it does, that's OK too and I trust that whatever happens it is overall just fine as long as I am living in harmony with Creation instead of against it.

I can see the importance of reframing out of the double-negative of not-sinning. As an example, trying mainly not to worry could just lead to other negatives such as despair and/or distracting. If we distract then we are not recognizing that worry is wrong, are not repentant, and instead seeking short term alleviation from the feeling of worry.

Back to the previous post, I can clearly see that Heaven is a "maximalist" place. I can imagine a life without worry, I can even somewhat grasp what it would be like (it's possible to worry a little less). It's probably impossible for me to become worry-less during mortal life, but if I want resurrection, if I want to follow Jesus, then I must recognize that surely worrying (and other such sins) would be incompatible with Heaven and would benefit me here and now to recognize this fact and be prepared to let that part of me go.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Yes, I think that is how it is. It's an excellent example of what I was trying to express.

It can't be known for sure, but this kind of thing (i.e. worry, as an example) may be the main thing we personally are "here to learn from" - and if so then it would not be a spiritually lesson merely to "stop worrying".

Whereas if we really could understand and grasp that we should positively be "trusting in God" in an ultimate sense - then that lesson *would* be worth learning.

Hagel said...

@Bruce Charlton:

When I notice that I want to be good, and I ask why that is (and what goodness is), I start a chain of questions that leads me through my nature, the nature of creation and the world, love, and ultimately to my creator.

I agree, "because I want to" is not complete and satisfying on its own, but it has certain implications and follow up questions that, to me, eventually are.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hagel - I assumed you meant something of that sort.

But given the need to distinguish betweeen trad-external-church Christianity on the one hand; and on the other hand the mainstream Western hedonic-therapeutic values (with its official "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law", constrained by the demands of bureaucratic totalitarianism) - its helpful to clarify that there are other sources of guidance than these.