The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Sin and Psychology


A major conflict between the Christian faith and popular psychological counseling is their differing attitudes toward “sin.” For people without religious convictions, sin can seem a detrimental concept for individuals. For the faithful, this can be hard to argue with, but sin is no doubt taught as an actual thing that impacts our lives.

This is an important issue too. My friend says that Christian culture is inundated with popular psychological theories, where sin has morphed from a real problem to a curable psychological sickness. The culture of victims (the “poor me” mentality) is rampant there and in broader society. So, how should we think about this religious word in that counseling environment?

Dealing with sin in a psychological context may seem a little strange to some. It tells us that we think about sin only in terms of religion and not really much in terms of cognitive a behavioral processes (i.e. psychology). So, it’s hard for some to think of sin as affecting our thoughts and actions.

To begin blending religious belief with psychological study, McMinn begins by addressing three main issues. Essentially, he’s seeking to answer three questions about sin: (1) Is sin real or fake? (2) Who’s to blame for sin? * and (3) Are people sick or sinful? Thinking about the answers to these questions will help us understand both categories better, and examining them will help us to consider which perspective is the better way to think about sin’s effects on individuals.

First, is sin a real thing or just a figment of our imaginations? Albert Ellis and Jay Adams hold down each end of the spectrum. Ellis believes that sin is a mirage manufactured by human minds. It’s as real as bigfoot. It doesn’t exist, but we’ve created the idea of it. It’s only a concept in the human mind, nothing more.

Adams disagrees. In his opinion, sin is a real thing, as real as physical things like grass or concrete, even if it is as invisible as air or intangible as light and love. Sin is a real thing that exists like all of those things, independent of human imagination.

Arguments for and against the existence of sin can be made, but a conclusion cannot be reached. Ultimately, our answers will derive from where our thinking begins and how we’ve answered other questions. It becomes the responsibility of each individual to observe his or her surroundings and figure out how to explain those things. Murder, rape, entropy, lying, suicide, unhappiness. How can those things be explained? Good will, desire for peace, love, generosity, blogs: how do we explain these good things? Is sin the cause for those bad things? Each individual must look at the evidence and decide personally.

Whether sin is real or not, our second question comes up next. Who’s to blame for sin? Even if Albert Ellis is right, we must ask why the human mind has come up with the concept of something that doesn’t exist. If it is simply an easy way to pass the buck and avoid responsibility, or if we’re looking for a way to stop feeling guilty, the question reverts back: why do we feel guilty if a moral code (which says “to do wrong is sinful”) doesn’t exist to tell us we’ve sinned? What responsibility do we have and to whom are we responsible if we’ve sinned if sin doesn’t exist? If sin doesn’t exist, then nothing is right or wrong, and we have no need to compensate for doing wrong because we haven’t actually done wrong.

We’ll answer that in the next post.

*Some might reason that this question assumes that we answered the first question by affirming that sin is real. However, as we will see, no matter how we answer the first question, the second one is still essential to the issue. For those who see sin as real, then who deserves the blame and punishment for it? For those who see sin as fake, why was the concept ever imagined and who's to blame for creating and propagating the idea?