An Ancient Philosopher’s Brilliant Theory Explains Everything Bad You’ve Ever Done

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What do you think of when you hear the word “sin?” 

Some immediately think of immoral acts, like adultery. For others, the mind may go to illegal activities. And some may even conjure up images of indulgences, as in enjoying a “sinful” dessert. In short, there could be countless interpretations of the word, but as New York Times columnist David Brooks says, there’s one concept of sin that explains what it is in beautiful simplicity.

“That’s a concept from this great theologian, Augustine, and he said, ‘What is sin?'” Brooks says. “In traditional morality, it’s the sense that we have something broken.”

What’s broken, he continues, is something inside of us — and not necessarily something dark or depraved. Rather, in Augustine’s viewpoint, what’s broken actually relates to our loves.

“He had a beautiful formulation,” Brooks continues. “He said we sin when we have our loves out of order.”

Think about that for a moment. We sin when our loves are out of order.

“We all love a lot of things. We love family, we love money, we love a little affection, status, truth,” Brooks says. “And we all know that some loves are higher. We know that our love of family is higher than our love of money.”

However, when those ranks begin to shift, that’s when sin comes in. “Our love of truth should be higher than our love of money. [But] if we’re lying to get money, we’re putting our loves out of order,” Brooks explains.

In traditional morality, [sin is] the sense that we have something broken.

Under this definition, sinning doesn’t have to be a life-altering event or a long-developed scheme, Brooks adds. Sin can occur even in the most relatable, everyday settings.

“For example, if a friend tells you a secret and you blab it at a dinner party, you’re putting your love of popularity above your love of friendship,” he says. “And we know that’s wrong. That’s the wrong order.”

That’s why Brooks suggests people take the time to examine their loves and literally rank them in highs and lows. This helps you remain conscious of your ordered loves and, in theory, can help prevent their disorder and subsequent sin.

“It’s useful to sit down and just say, ‘What do I love? What are the things I really love? And in what order do I love them? Am I spending time so I’m spending time on my highest love? Or am I spending time on a lower love?'” Brooks says. “[Time], or your attention or your energy — all that stuff.”

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Faith Nouri is licensed to practice law in both the U.S. and Canadian Federal Courts. Ms. Nouri is an attorney at law in California, and a Barrister & Solicitor in British Columbia, Canada.