‘The wages of sin are death,’ as Christian street preachers the world over are so very fond of telling us, but this is a deeply distorted message. It’s not a message to help us (which is what it implicitly claims to be), but a jinx, a clever ‘double bind’.
Death doesn’t come into the picture because of our sinning, but because of the way in which we have adapted ourselves to the system, to the way of thinking and behaving that we have been given to protect us from falling into dangerous, sinful states of being. The ‘death’ that we are warned about occurs when we hand over our autonomy to some authority for the sake of obtaining immunity from the threat of eternal damnation, not when we disobey authority. To give up our autonomy is to avoid the only demand that life really makes on us — autonomy is life, we might say. Autonomy is life and it is the wages of abject conformity that are death, not ‘sin’. We can’t conform and yet still be alive.
This is all about risk avoidance therefore — if we abide by the rules that have been given to us then we will avoid the risk of ‘getting it wrong’; we will ensure, by our compliance to the system, that we obtain the good outcome rather than the bad one. This is what is going on every time we adopt some kind of systematic approach to life (and it doesn’t whether our approach is religious or non-religious) — we’re trying to reduce everything to a key formula so that all we have to do (once we have the formula) is apply it across the board to ensure that everything turns out OK. Everything will be sorted once and for all just as soon as we hit upon this magic key…
The formula for living life isn’t life however and so what we end up doing is ‘living the formula’. We end up living the script that has been given to us, but a formula or script can’t be lived any more than a recipe can be eaten. To utilise a strategy under certain specific circumstances is not to hand over responsibility for our own lives — handing over responsibility means that we have strategies for everything, it means that we can’t actually do anything that isn’t a strategy! In our effort to play it safe we put our money on some method or approach, we utilise some kind of ‘instrument’ or ‘tool’ that will eliminate the element of risk.
That’s what tools are — they are a means of avoiding risk, a means of guaranteeing the desired result. Instead of merely messing around, making mistakes left, right and centre, we play it smart and use the tried and trusted method; this means that we will’ skip ahead’ to the result that we wanted. This is what formulae are for — foe preventing us from making every mistake under the sun and — instead — magically transporting us to where we want to be, as if with a magic wand, as if with a flying carpet. The formula is a shortcut, in other words.
The system of morality that religion provides us with (for the sake of saving our souls) is the ‘magical carpet’ therefore and sitting corresponds to not being compliant with regard to the rules that make it up. The very notion of sin only exists in relation to the moral framework of ‘how we are supposed to behave’ (or ‘how we’re supposed to be) in the world. The impression is given that this all-important business of sin exists in an absolute sense, independent of any moral framework that has been imposed; this is patently absurd however, ‘sinning’ equals ‘breaking the rules,’ and the rules belong to the framework that we have used to contain or enclose reality, not the actual reality that is being enclosed.
We have been given to understand that the moral framework which has been put in place is the same thing as ‘the reality that is being imposed upon’; the framework not only becomes more important than the actual underlying reality, it has taken its place entirely. Unconditioned reality has been gotten rid of, buried, smothered under the thought-created overlay and so in this sense we can now be said to be ‘living the formula for life’ rather than simply living life itself, without any strategic approach, without there being this big mass of thinking going on the whole time. We have been persuaded that the recipe for the meal is the meal and that it is — moreover — a very tasty and nutritious one into the bargain…
This sounds ridiculous since we all know very well that the recipe (i.e., the set of instructions telling us how to prepare the meal) isn’t the same thing as the meal itself. We know very well that no set of instructions, no matter how detailed, is going to be the least bit tasty, and that it will have absolutely zero nutritional value. When it comes to the question of having a set of rules or instructions telling us how to live life, or with regard to what life should or should not be, we don’t spot the switch at all however — we fall for it hook, line and sinker. This is just another way of talking about hyperreality — hyperreality is all about putting a cheap and nasty description of the world in place of the genuine article and then living in that description instead.
Hyperreality — which is to say, the system of concrete representations of the world which we interact with instead of the world itself — isn’t just lacking in flavour and nutritional benefit, it’s actually toxic. It’s not good for us any more than subsisting entirely on a diet of fast food is going to be good for us. If I live — like a zealous, like a fanatic — according to ‘the Book of Rules’ then I become rigid, judgmental and hollow. The best bit of me (which is to say, the human bit, has now been gotten rid of. I have become a machine, not to put to put too fine a point on it. When we live according to the Book of Rules — thereby short-circuiting life itself — then we become progressively more miserable and humourless in ourselves as time goes on and we can do nothing else in life other than going around spreading this misery. This — needless to say — is not exactly an uncommon thing.
The real ‘sin’ is to try to live life according to a recipe, according to a method, according to a formula which we have been given (a fail-safe formula which we believe will obviate the need for us to get into any trouble along the way). We are greatly desirous of reaching the final destination, of obtaining the proper result, and we’re afraid of making all the stupid mistakes that we definitely will make if we have to proceed in a trial-and-error basis, without a plan, but the problem with this is that life isn’t about ‘reaching a final destination’ or ‘obtaining the proper result’. Life isn’t a means to an end, after all. We are short-circuiting life by trying to be clever because we think by our cleverness we will be able to avoid all the pitfalls, all the potential disasters, but it just so happens (unexpectedly enough) that life is in the pitfalls, in the so-called ‘disasters’. It’s certainly not in our idealized projections of what life should be like! That’s where the learning is, after all — there certainly isn’t any learning to be had from holding back from life and trying to save ourselves by sticking to the Book of Rules. That’s just being prudish, that’s just being ‘afraid to live’.
The ‘sin’ is being afraid to live and — as a result — subordinating life to a strategy, to an abstract framework which we are too afraid to question. We’re not living life at all in this case, even though we think we are — on the contrary, we’re playing ‘the Waiting Game’, which is where we mechanically and joylessly obey all the rules because we believe that if we do this then some great benefit will come our way. This isn’t how it works however — life is about taking the risk not avoiding it! Engaging in a strict policy of risk avoidance (and thereby skipping all the work that we would otherwise need to do) isn’t going to pay dividends for us. We’re not going to be granted eternal life because of our conformity; the gates of heaven aren’t going to be miraculously opened to us just because we’ve handed all our autonomy over to a lame mechanical formula.
When it comes down to it ‘systematic life-avoidance’ isn’t a sin either of course, even if it does have very dire consequences. Sinning (which is where we get it wrong in some very serious way) only has any meaning in the Determinate World, a world with no freedom in it, a world which is run on the basis of rules. If there are no rules then we can’t disobey them, after all. Rules can’t exist by themselves — we have to sneakily arrange for them to be there, we have to pretend that they are there when actually they’re not. We are perfectly free to do anything we want and we are also free to experience the consequences of what we do. This isn’t a punishment (or judgement against us) however but rather it is a gift, a precious opportunity to learn. We don’t have to learn — it’s not compulsory — there is no terrifying External Authority that is going to condemn us to eternal damnation for refusing to do what it wants us to do. It doesn’t work like that — that’s just our own ridiculous small-mindedness that has been put on a pedestal and made into a vengeful, controlling ‘Father God’ who gets extremely irate if He is not obeyed. How could we ever possibly imagine that this utterly dismal state of affairs is actually ‘the way things are’? If we can’t see beyond our thoughts, our ideas, then we’re not worshiping God — as Krishnamurti says, we’re actually worshiping the thinking mind…