The word “sin” is making a comeback in mainstream America, but you may be confused by the new meaning. More than that, I’m concerned by this trend. Allow me to explain.
I was recently at a technology conference in California where “sins at work” became a hot topic for a respected keynote speaker. No, this wasn’t a Christian conference, nor was any religion or controversial political topic even on the agenda. Rather, the speaker was giving examples about unsuccessful workplace strategies for resolving conflict, escalating problems, and maximizing office process efficiency.
Now I don’t think the speaker meant any disrespect for the Bible or any religion—nor was atheism being advocated. In fact, this was the normal language for this person—and I suspect the language was chosen to “spice up” the problems related to poor career decisions. I might have used different words than the speaker, such as a “stupid thing to do,” “violation of accepted office etiquette,” or “bad career move.”
Cultural Redefinitions of Sin
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the redefining of sin (or sins). I’ve heard plenty of people water down the meaning of “sins” to essentially mean “mistakes.” What I recently found surprising was the ease of use regarding phrases like “confessing your sins” and “repentance with prayer.” This was not my father’s definitions of sin, repentance, or prayer.
Yes, I think this is a growing trend, and a dangerous one at that. But before I tell you why, here are some more examples of what I’m talking about:
- The 7 deadly sins of the workplace (Salary.com) – Note: this article contains more traditional sins such as lust and gluttony in the workplace.
- How to Avoid the Seven Deadly Workplace Sins (PeopleAtWorkOnline.com) – Note: This article talks about the sins of Exhaustion, Obsolescence, Withdrawal and others.
- The 7 Sins of Workplace Giving (3BLMedia.com) – Note: this article moves on to new territory with sins like: “Lack of Alignment between Corporate Giving and Employee Giving” and “Stagnant Employee Participation Rates.”
- Deadly sins the tech industry can’t seem to shake (InfoWorld.com)- Note: ever heard of those really horrible sins of “not invented here” or “cultures don’t match?”
- Seven Cyber Sins: Online mistakes you can avoid (Intel.com) – Note: ever think of “not trusting your instincts online” as a sin?
I could go on and on with examples, but I’m sure you get the point. I deliberately put article #1 in with the other four, since article #1 uses the more traditional definition of sin. However, the mixed definitions from different places can cause even more confusion for many in society. I suspect that “sins” may seem like a more intriguing word than “mistakes” for non-Christians to use. However, there are definite differences. For example, I might make a mistake and accidentally drop a stack of papers. But I would not call that a sin. Nor would most workplace decisions about promotions or investments be considered sins—even if others view them as unwise.
This is also slightly different than the trend I discussed in my book Virtual Integrity, where actions online are watered down or sinful acts are renamed to remove any sense of wrongdoing. “Lying” becoming “protecting yourself,” or “stealing” becoming “copying text.”
No, our society has now gone a step further. Sin, repentance, and prayer are often used as analogies for topics that have nothing to do with historic Christianity or the Bible. At the conference I attended, a reference to “kneeling, prayer, repentance, and fasting” was made to describe what should have happened for not escalating a problem to the correct level of management fast enough. The intended point was “you really messed up badly” or “that was really stupid and let me tell you why.”
So why does this trend bother me?
- The traditional Biblical definitions of original sin and the concept of sins as defined by Scripture are confused and even more misunderstood in America. The situation is getting worse. These definitions are paramount to understanding the gospel. Grasping the impact of versus like John 3:16 (and other verses on sin, mankind’s fallen nature, redemption, forgiveness, etc. ) require an understanding of what the Bible calls sin (as a result of Adam’s fall) and sins of omission and commission.
- We have moved from an avoidance of Christian or Biblical terms to a potentially worse situation. These words are being embraced and repackaged with new meanings and deliberately confusing jargon. The strange thing is that this is not happening in most other areas of life. For example: We haven’t redefined the meaning of earthquakes: we have a Richter scale which measures them more exactly. I don’t see anyone changing the definition of basketball or suggesting that a high school diploma is really something different than it was when I graduated. (Yes, other words like “sick” or “bad” are sometimes being redefined as the opposite of what they once were, but these dictionary terms are not being watered down or replaced in the same way “sin” and “sins” are being repackaged in 2012.)
- This renaming of “sins” to be “mistakes” that we all make may result in very serious consequences. Our values, beliefs, ethics, and behavior are tending in a very negative direction online and in real life. Read this piece as background: What ever happened to sin?
- Finally, our online lives are fueling this trend. Cyberspace has become the front lines for families in the battle of good vs. evil, and confusing the vocabulary is part of the complicated fight we’re engaged in for family values.
So what can be done? We can start by helping our family and friends understand what’s going on in society. What is the Biblical definition of sin? What about original sin? Identification of the problem(s) is the first step. What thoughts, words and deeds are sinful? How can we repent of sin in our lives?
Second, understand your values, beliefs and worldview. Identify ethical lines for online and offline life.
Third, surf your values. Apply your offline values to your online world.
I’d love to hear your view on the 21st century definitions of sin that you’re seeing in society.