It is established dogma in status quo Christianity that all sins are equal. Stealing a pack of gum from the grocery store is just as sinful as lying to your brother, or lusting after your neighbor’s wife. “It’s all the same in God’s eyes,” one hears. This ridiculous and untenable piece of theological folklore might be tediously based on Matt 5:21-28, where Jesus seems to suggest that that lusting after or being angry with someone is just as bad as actually committing adultery and murder, respectively. But let’s be honest: to suggest that anyone who believes this dogma does so on the basis of Biblical support—even terrible support—is too generous. In fact, I refuse to believe that anyone actually believes this. The life of this idea must be sustained entirely by thoughtless repetition. Why do I refuse to believe this? Two reasons.
(i) There are massive amounts of passages that explicitly establish the contrary. I won’t rehearse a full defense of this here, because that has been done ad nauseam elsewhere (see here and here, research hamartiology for dummies, or just actually read your Bible). But here are some brief points to consider:
- Scripture distinguishes between unintentional versus defiant sins (Num 15.24, 30), “greater” and “least” commandments (Matt 5.19), “weightier provisions of the law” (Matt 23.23), “greater sin” (John 19.11), and the unpardonable sin (Matt 12.30-32). And anyone who’s read the OT laws knows that depending on the sin, more or less reparation and sacrifice is required for atonement.
- Scripture suggests that there are levels of heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:2-4) and degrees of Heavenly reward (1 Cor 3:9-15; 2 Cor 5:10), it is natural to think the same of Hell, because Hell is understood in parallel fashion with Heaven (Dan 12:2; Matt 25:46; Rev 21:1-8). And your reward depends on your deeds. In Luke 12:47-48, Jesus says there will be degrees of punishment according to one’s responsibilities before God. Paul reiterates the point (2 Pet 2:20-21). Which brings me to the next point.
- 2 Cor 5:10 says “each will receive his due” according to his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12-13).
- Jesus says eternal punishment will be “more bearable” for some than for others (Matt 10:15). This can only be just if those whose suffering is more sever is more deserved. Accordingly, right in line with our moral intuitions, Hitlers will not receive the same punishment as, say, Ghandis.
To maintain the belief that all sins are equal, as if this is the Biblical view, in the face of the Biblical evidence against it can only be an indication of the severest forms of self-deception or attention-managment.
(ii) The claim that ‘all sins are equal’ is straightforwardly counterintuitive. To believe it and to simultaneously be a properly functioning human being is impossible. This is because the claim contradicts basic concepts of equity and justice so deeply engrained in the human psyche that no rational person could believe the former without doing violence to the latter. Consider: if it were true that ‘all sins are equal’, then stealing a pack of gum is just as morally wrong as torturing, raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl (once someone actually pretended to believe this in the face of my questioning their commitment to the dogma, so sacred it was to them). Anyone who believes a claim that has such things as a consequence is morally obtuse and is simply not functioning properly. They are possibly also psychopathic: it is characteristic of psychopaths to be unable to make basic moral distinctions.
So if the claim that all sins are equal is explicitly denied by scripture and common sense, what explains why I’ve heard so many Christians say this? Perhaps they don’t actually read Scripture, or don’t actually have common sense. Or, perhaps the asinine ideas that define status quo Christianity are more influential than real Christianity.