George and I seem to be the scourge of our ward. Unlike other inactive neighbors who avoid contact with Church members, we talk to the neighbors and enjoy having their kids play on our lawn. We show up for ward socials and service projects. We take meals to needy families. In other words, we live the same way devout ward members do—except for not warming church benches every Sunday. That makes us sinners according to Mormon definition—and everyone knows sinners are bad, unhappy people. Possibly, our innocuous lifestyle undermines faith in that myth for our ward members.
Most Christian faiths define sin as breaking the easier-to-prove of the Ten Commandments—murder, theft, adultery. Mormons broaden the definition far beyond the etchings on the stone tablets—even including ear piercing for males and sleeveless apparel for females. For Mormons the chief sin, of course, is failing to believe Mormon history, scripture, and prophets.
For some time now, I have defined sin as intentionally causing harm to others. I regret the harm I’ve caused through stupidity, but can’t see it as sin. I’ve already apologized to my children for my lack of parental patience when they exercised their own stupidity by such adventures as building a bonfire on the bedroom carpet or by tying up and torturing siblings. If there is a heaven, I hope to line up the students I’ve taught over the years and say, “I’m so sorry for making you do those damned worksheets. I knew they were pointless, but I had to keep the large group quiet while I worked with small groups.”
Christian theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, defines sin in a way entirely different from my own narrow interpretation as well as from the broad Mormon definition. To Niebuhr, sin is essentially hubris—the human refusal to admit our own finiteness and dependence on God. I see Niebuhr’s point. We humans expend great effort to gain prestige, security, and freedom from pain by our own efforts. Often these efforts result in our inflicting harm on others as we seek wealth and power for our own use. Niebuhr’s solution is to see security in God. A great idea, but it requires more faith than most of us, churchgoers or not, can muster.