A Former Jehovah’s Witness On the Subject of Sin


A “SIN” IS THAT WHICH, according to a particular religion is morally wrong by their god. This is often determined by a holy book which is said to express the thoughts of the god in question. Since I no longer believe in a transcendent god overseeing human affairs and decreeing what is “right” and “wrong”, and because I view holy books such as the Bible as man-made, I would say that sin exists only as a religious construct. For me, the label “sin” is a moot point these days.

Moreover, what is classed as a sin differs between religions. Most religions say that murder and theft are a sin against their particular god. Some religions say adultery, homosexuality, or even the drinking of alcohol is a sin offensive to their divine overlord. Others do not. Personally, I do not choose to use the term “sin” anymore because I am no longer religious, nor do I believe in a god who sits in judgment of us. I do, however, continue to refer to certain things as “right” or “wrong”.

It should be noted that “sin” is not the same as “crime”. A crime is what is determined to be morally wrong according to a secular government. Yet even this differs from government to government. In a democratic government such as the one I live under, what is decreed to be a crime is usually by consensus (“government of the people, by the people, for the people”). For example, in Australia and most other democratic countries, adultery is not a crime, even if certain religions operating within the country say it’s a sin. But in some countries, adultery is a crime punishable by death, as is homosexuality. In North Korea, sexual relationships between non-married couples are prohibited and the government employs “Dating Police” to ensure no such relationships occur. North Korea also has strict haircut rules for men who can only choose from 15 state-approved haircuts. Personally, I think these laws are extreme.

I believe democracy to be the most enlightened form of government we have when it comes to a reasonable view of what is a criminal offence, more reasonable in fact than what my previous religion considered to be objectionable. But even this does not cover the full range of what might be considered morally “right” or wrong”. What is illegal in one democratic country may not be illegal in another, and personally, there are certain things that are not criminal offences in my country, but that I would consider to be wrong.

This brings me to the question of what is actually right and wrong. Putting the labels of “sin” and “crime” aside, which can be fluid depending on the religion or government making the definitions, how does one determine what is truly right or wrong? There are certain things that I used to view as sinful when I was a Jehovah’s Witness. I no longer feel that way because I no longer view Jehovah God/the Bible/the Watch Tower/the governing body as a reliable authority of what is good or bad. For me, right and wrong comes down to whether it helps or harms another person (or myself). It’s about whether a certain course of action is beneficial or detrimental, optimal or suboptimal. Simple.

Living in a democratic society, I am usually on the same page as the government/people as a whole when it comes to what counts as not only wrong but also criminal, things such as murder, theft, abuse etc. True, these prohibitions are found in most religions too, but I believe that even if religion did not exist we would agree these things are morally wrong and deserving of punishment. Why? Because they harm others.

How do you define “right” and “wrong”? Do you believe in “sin”? Do you believe there is such a thing as intrinsic right and wrong even in the absence of religious or secular definitions?

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