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Secular morality versus religion-fed morality

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1234660.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:21 am Reply with quote

I can't speak for anyone else, but to me the term "sin" only has any meaning in the context of a specific religion. The secular equivilent would be breaking laws of behaving unethically or something.

Of the "seven deadly sins" only only certain specific instances of "wrath" would even count as a "crime" in a secular society. The remaining ones (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy and Pride.) are essentially things we regard as being available as free choices by individuals. We may not feel them particularly admirable, but we generally only regard them as needing to be stopped in their most extreme manifestations.

€0.09 supplied,


1234661.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:24 am Reply with quote

It is a dictionary's* job to reflect the usage of the language, not try and prescribe how it should be used.

For sure, the word "sin" comes from a concept used in religion. However, like many formerly religious terms, I believe that this word has now become used in a much wider sense than its original definition. It can be used in a more general sense of simply breaking the rules.

For instance, in rugby a player who is sent off the park for 10 minutes is said to go to the "sin bin". I think there's little doubt that the player has not transgressed any specifically religious edicts :)

*At least, the OED specify that this is the way they see things

1234664.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:39 am Reply with quote

Ta, dr.bob. I see what you mean. However, I feel that Wiki by including the words 'in a religious context', should have written something about its use outside religion, too - for completeness purposes.

1234684.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 8:41 am Reply with quote

Usually in a dictionary, if they don't specify a context for a definition, it's understood to be a general-use term. Contexts are only mentioned when they're specific.

Let's have a look in Chambers... For the sake of compactness, Chambers runs its definitions one after the other in a single paragraph; I'll put them on separate lines here.

Sin, n.
Moral offence or shortcoming, esp. from the point of view of religion
The condition of offending in this way
An offence generally
A shame or pity (old informal use)

So they're saying "especially" in a religious context, as part of the first (most widely used) definition. Which seems about right to me -- sin is a word with strong religious overtones. Even if you're using it to talk about, say, eating chocolate cake, it's still implying a transgression against the "dogma" of your diet plan.

1234685.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 8:50 am Reply with quote

OK. Ta, RLD.

1234779.  Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:51 pm Reply with quote

According to Somethin' Smith & The Redheads, 'Its a sin to tell a lie'.

1236449.  Sun May 07, 2017 5:12 am Reply with quote

I *think* the link is strong enough to add this here:

I see that Stephen Fry is now under threat of prosecution for the sin of Blasphemy in Ireland, for refusing to "respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world.... full of injustice".

Be interesting to see how that pans out...


1236477.  Sun May 07, 2017 11:25 am Reply with quote

At least he did not say 'Jehovah'


1236604.  Mon May 08, 2017 10:22 am Reply with quote

I heard that it is just a move from another atheist who does this all the time, trying to point out the absurdity of the blasphemy laws in order to get them taken off the books.

1236787.  Wed May 10, 2017 5:40 am Reply with quote

Irish police halt prosecution of Stephen Fry for blasphemy

Police could not find enough people outraged at actor’s anti-God remarks on TV after only one viewer complained


1236794.  Wed May 10, 2017 5:55 am Reply with quote

Given that the remarks were made in 2015, and the complaint was made at the time, have the Gardaí really been spending the intervening couple of years searching high and low for someone else who was offended? :)

1236796.  Wed May 10, 2017 6:05 am Reply with quote

Having had a flick through the Irish Defamation Act 2009, I notice that it talks about statements offensive to followers of a religion. It also states that:

"religion" does not include an organisation [...] that employs oppressive psychological manipulation of its followers

It's probably best if I don't comment here, but let everyone come to their own conclusions about the consequences of that statement.

1236798.  Wed May 10, 2017 6:10 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
I *think* the link is strong enough to add this here:

I see that Stephen Fry is now under threat of prosecution for the sin of Blasphemy in Ireland, for refusing to "respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world.... full of injustice".

Be interesting to see how that pans out...


The Gardaí have dropped the case because they couldn't find a sufficient number of people who were outraged by Stephen's statement. If that doesn't highlight the stupidity of the law I don't know what it does.



1237009.  Fri May 12, 2017 8:05 pm Reply with quote

This seems to be one of those occasions when there is a flaw in the question. Words such as “morality”, “good”, “evil”, “bad”, “civilised” – even “society” and “ethical” are being used with the assumption that they have an absolute meaning which is universally understood and agreed upon.

In a forum such as this there may be (probably is) broad agreement on the meaning of those concepts – so that a lazy statement such as

However, when I am confronted by people such as Ian Brady, Richard Ramirez or Joseph Mengele, I find it hard to avoid the "E" word to describe their actions.

can go unchallenged.

But even within the limited sub-strata of society that this forum represents there is much gnashing of teeth around those concepts. In the wider world the disparity of opinions is far greater.

If we start within a Darwinian context then inevitably we are drawn to the conclusion that a “good” society is one which survives. Starkly put, if Jesus/Buddha/Mohammed/Ghandi etc were to represent the flawless perfection to which we all should strive they would become irrelevant if that ideal is overwhelmed by the actions of Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot (to use lazy but illustrative examples).

Dr Bob states that the “Golden Rule” (do as you would be done by) “pops up in virtually every religion throughout history” – but this is far from true. I am (as is well known) not an apologist for Christianity but it is clear from the historical record that this concept was a novelty introduced by Jesus, or at least a novelty within the geographical/historical area in which Jesus operated. Its’ novelty is implicit in the statement “Who, then, is my neighbour”. Clearly, prior to his teachings, the concept within Judaism (and in the traditions of the surrounding areas) was to support one’s own “tribe”, irrespective of any suffering inflicted on the “other”. The parable of the Good Samaritan (and many other Christian concepts) would be irrelevant if it were otherwise.

I am unaware of any similar concept in (for example) the various North European religious traditions, Hinduism, Shintoism, Amerindian religious tradition, African Animism, etc (although I’m not familiar with any of these in detail so I may be wrong).

Dr Bob also says

For a society to function, the vast majority of people within it have to agree about some basic house rules. Things like generally considering it a bad idea to massacre your neighbours or stealing anything you want to. If a significant number of people behave like that, it will be extremely disruptive and the society will fall apart.

This is only partially true. Again we come back to the question of “who is my neighbour?”. Many societies have not only survived but thrived on plundering their neighbours – the Egyptians lasted for several thousand years on just such a policy, far longer than any of our modern societies have existed.

The most egregious statement that Dr Bob makes is that

Certainly, the threat of eternal damnation seems to have had a better track record at preventing unwanted behaviour than 5-7 years with time off for good behaviour.

That rather depends on your definition of “unwanted behaviour”. At the risk of sounding offensive that statement rather smacks of the “I can’t get a council house because the local authority is giving priority to all these East European immigrants” mentality, although I’m sure Dr Bob didn’t mean it that way.

It’s true that, on an individual level, the threat of eternal damnation does seem to have had a limiting effect on wanton child killers in the historical era. Then again, it’s also possible that a lack of reporting facilities, combined with the rather more significant destruction of entire peoples in which even Jack the Ripper may have gone unnoticed, might limit our knowledge of earlier activities.

I would say the real question to be addressed is not where to draw the line between “religiosity” and “secularity” – but where to draw the line between the rights of the individual and the rights of the society in which they find themselves.

In fact, I don’t even know why we’re even still discussing this matter of religion – if individuals want to believe in God (or Gods), I have no problem with that. Religion is merely a simplified version of law – probably necessary (or at least useful) in the Stone Age, not really required now.

There are no absolute rights or wrongs.

PS I'll get around to posting my latest travelogue asap - there's a lot of notes to get through

1237159.  Sun May 14, 2017 1:24 pm Reply with quote

Welcome back bobwilson! And thank you for that very interesting contribution.


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