Thoughts sinful in and of themselves?

This question is mainly for those who do believe in the concept of “sin”. If you don’t, this will mostly be irrelevant to you.

I am just curious as to whether people feel that thoughts can be sinful all by themselves, even if you do not act on them. For example, is it sinful to fantasize about murdering the guy who lives next door and blasts his stereo at 8 AM on Sunday morning? Is it sinful to lustfully gaze at a 9-year-old girl? And so on, and so forth.

When I was a kid and in Catholic Sunday School, we were having one of these hypothetical discussions one day, started when one of the other kids asked the teacher if it was still necessary to go to Confession if you hadn’t committed any sins. The teacher said that you always have some sins to confess, even if they’re very small. The kid says, OK, but what if you just sit in church all day long and never do anything else, what about then? The teacher shrugged and said that even in that situation, you would probably eventually get bored and start having sinful thoughts that you would have to confess.

So are thoughts alone sinful?

By the way, if you have a religious background that influences your opinion on this matter, could you please mention which religion it is, just to further satisfy my curiosity?

Well, I’m no Christian, but yer boy Jesus had this to say:

Matthew 5:27-29.

So yeah, sounds like sinful thoughts are right out.

Growing up in the bible belt south where church is an everyday event, I was always told that thinking a sin was just as harmful as doing it - i.e. If you think about killing somebody, in God’s eyes it was just as bad as carrying out the action. The only difference is facing the laws of man for the action vs. facing the laws of God for the thought.

It’s not necessarily the action that’s the sin, it’s the ‘impure’ feelings or thoughts that cause you to commit the action. Hate is a sin just like adultery, murder, theft, etc.

That being said, I grew up in a VERY Baptist (Southern Baptist) family, so much so that when my parents and I joined the Methodist church we were considered heathens. However, adolescence brought about several changes in thought for me, and I no longer practice any organized religion.

Let’s alter the way we look at “sin” a bit. Don’t think of sin like, say, a foul in basketball or hockey. Think of sin as a condition, like alcoholism. That is, from a Christian standpoint, your actions are a reflection of your soul.

In the NBA, all that matters is whether you actually whack Shaquille O’Neal- if you thought about it but didn’t do it, you’ve committed no foul. In the NHL, you can THINK about doing anything at all- but so long as you don’t DO anything illegal, you can win the Lady Byng Cup for good sportsmanship. In the secular world, we don’t much care about what’s in people’s hearts and minds- it’s only their actions we care about.

Christians, however, generally believe that God DOES care what’s in our hearts.

Can you be considered a criminal if you’ve never committed a crime? of course not. On the other hand, can you be considered an alcoholic if you haven’t had a drink in ten years? YES! Most recovering/recovered alcoholics will tell you so. They may learn to control their behavior, but the urge to get drunk is always there.

Similarly, if one is CONSTANTLY tempted to commit immoral acts, if one is constantly battling the urge to commit such acts, ones soul is in a dangerously sinful state, even if he manages to refrain from acting on those urges.

Try this flawed analogy:

  1. Man with a gun in his jacket pocket drives by the local convenience store late at night, planning a stickup. But he sees a police car parked there, and decides to keep driving.

  2. Man with gun drives to convenience store, enters, demands money (without pulling out weapon), and gets it without a fight. He drives away.

  3. man with gun goes to convenience store, demands money. The clerk refuses. He pulls out his gun and points it at her. She gives him the money and he speeds off.

  4. Armed man demands money from convenience store clerk. Clerk refuses, so the man shoots her, empties the cash register, and drives off. Luckily, the clerk isn’t seriously wounded, and recovers.

  5. Same scenario as 4, but this time, the gunman puts a bullet right throught the cashier’s heart, and she dies.

Now… under secular criminal law, these 5 scenarios are very different. In scenario #1, the man has commited no crime at all, and gets no punishment. Under scenarios 2 and 3, he’s guilty of robbery, and will get some jail time (more for scenario 3, which constitutes armed robbery). Scenario 4 will get him a much LONGER jail term. And scenario 5 will get the robber the electric chair. Because, under secular law, the actions in each scenario are very different.

But really, in their hearts and souls, are the 5 robbers outlined here so different? Is 1 really any better than 5? You think God awards points for cowardice? In their greed, cruelty, and willingness to kill to get money, all 5 men are just the same, even if their actions were very different.

In the same way, if I’m obsessed with sex, and refrain from adultery SOLELY because I’m terrified my wife will find out, I’m not much better than a reckless adultrerer. God doesn’t give me extra points for morality just because I’m too chicken to commit the evil deeds I dream of.

So… are thoughts alone as bad as deeds? Should I say to myself, “well, if THINKING about adultery is a sin, I might as well go ahead and DO it, since I’m going to Hell for it anyway”? No! But it does mean that my soul is in jeopardy LONG before I actually commit a sin. If I find myself thinking seriously about doing something wrong, I need to deal with my weakness and sinfulness then and there- NOT right after I’ve done it, or right when I’m on the verge of doing it.

It’s your butt if you actually do it. I mean nothing good ever comes of adultery before you even consider your soul. For starters, you made this promise for life and now you are a big fat liar.

It’s not sinful to be tempted, it’s sinful to succumb to temptation; that’s the traditional view in a nutshell; Jesus was (in the gospel accounts) tempted by Satan; arguably he must have had some sort of thought processes about the things on offer (or else he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend and reject the offer), but he said no and remained without sin (if the account is to be accepted as true, of course).

The way I was taught, it’s not just feeling tempted (as the girl walks by: “woowee… that chick’s hot!”), that is “sinful thoughts” it’s dwelling upon the temptation and entertaining in your mind a wish to consummate it, even if you don’t actually do it (later on the next three nights: “wooweee… what I could do to her with half a pound of cocoa butter and a 25-foot extension cord!”) .

Maybe we should really ask former President Carter about this one :wink: (no, not the extension cord ya smart-alecks…)

I was told that what Jesus meant was that it’s wrong to treat people as objects. In other words, you can’t help your feelings, but if you look on women as just something to fuck, well, that’s what’s wrong.

Or something.

Sounds to me as if the ultra religious are interested in suppressing uninhibited thought, because it could lead to creativity, which could lead to realizing what a piece of crap the church dogma is.

That’s not what it sounds like to me at all, HairyPotter, but thanks anyway for “contributing” to this discussion.

—Jesus was (in the gospel accounts) tempted by Satan; arguably he must have had some sort of thought processes about the things on offer (or else he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend and reject the offer), but he said no and remained without sin (if the account is to be accepted as true, of course).—

Hmm, that raises the question of whether he was really “tempted” in the normal sense of the word. Sounds like, if fantasies of possible sin are sinful, and Christ was sinless, then he didn’t find Satan’s offer anymore tempting than if Satan had offered to punch him in the gut.

So maybe it’s a little misleading to say that Christ was tempted: he was offered some possibility, but it wasn’t in his nature to even entertain the idea.

I think that astorian has it right. Think of it in Aristotlean terms. Aristotle believed that in order to be truly virtuous, one has to have his will in alignment with “the good.” Same deal in Christianity…you have to have your will in alignment with God’s (who is the good, or man’s final end, philosophically speaking).

Dwelling on evil thoughts is a sign that one’s will is not in alignment with God’s, and so, are a sin. However, Mangetout is also correct in that it is not a sin to be tempted. But to succumb or to dwell on the temptation is a sin because to dwell on it is an indicator that one’s will is not in line with God’s.


I believe scenario 5 qualifies as Second-Degree Murder, which, while definitely carrying a long jail sentence, is not considered a capital crime in most U.S. States.

When I’ve been in serious relationships, I still notice other attractive women walking down the street. An attractive woman is an attractive woman.

But I do not “lust after her in my heart.” That is, I do not want, or seriously entertain the idea of pursuring her and doing anything with her. I am already with someone I love who makes me happy. I need nothing else. (Well, I’m actually not right now, but that’s beside the point.)

If I did, if I spent all my time neglecting my girlfriend and trying to figure out some way to hook up with another girl, even if those efforts weren’t successful, then I’m just as guilty of adultery as I’d be if I had actually done it.

I see it as a matter of two things: If you could actually do the sin in question, would you? And, if you don’t want to do it, what are your motives? If you wouldn’t do the sin given the chance, but your only motive is fear of punishment, sorry, pal, no dice.

Actually, astorian, I liked your analogy. :slight_smile:

My understanding was that it’s not sinful to be tempted, but to entertain the tempation. To fantasize about sleeping with your neighbour’s wife is a sin of the heart in the same way that actually sleeping with her is a sin of the flesh, while being propositioned by her isn’t.

—However, Mangetout is also correct in that it is not a sin to be tempted.—

I think the problem is the ambiguity in the phrase “to be tempted.” One can be tempted, meaning that the offer appeals to them in some way. Or, one can try to tempt someone else.

But in the latter case, the need to say that you “try” to tempt sort of suggests that it isn’t really a temptation, just an attempt.

So, that leaves us with something more like: “it isn’t a sin to have someone try to tempt you” rather than “it isn’t a sin to be tempted.” So, by that measure, Jesus didn’t sin because he wasn’t succesfuly tempted by Satan (though that was Satan’s hope): if he had actually been tempted by Satan’s offer, the way we speak of humans, for instance, being tempted by power, that would have been a sign that his will wasn’t right with god (or he wasn’t god, if you slice it that way).

Alright, then. Why does God care about what we think about? And HairyPotter, sorry, no dice. The real reason for prohibitions on fantasizing to your heart’s and other vaguely connected organs’s content is to cause misery. When people are unhappy, they frequently go to the church for support. Most religions have no problems with creativity. It’s the boring old things like the scientific method that religions don’t like.

I realize that I’m personifying like crazy here, but my metaphor is internally self-consistent. Religions behave like living organisms. Study memetics for further info.

Can people name religions which don’t have a task for people to do to remain save’d?

But back to my original question. Why does He care? Does God recognise holy intentions that never became reality? What if the reason for me not sinning and not being sinful are the same?
I don’t steal, because bad things happen if you get caught, and at my income/theft oppertunity level, I have no real reason to. I don’t give to charities or people on the street either, for the same reason: no incentive.
If “would steal, but too lazy” is a sin, why isn’t “would donate, but too lazy” not a virtue?

Because “would donate,” while virtuous is being blocked by the “too lazy.” Your will is still not in line with God’s.

As for why God cares…it’s because he loves you.

The rest of your post is just bizarre.

—Can people name religions which don’t have a task for people to do to remain save’d?—

Well, considering that most religions arise because people are seeking meaning, its not surprising that some would develop ideas of what one must do. Even as a meme, it doesn’t have to be as simple as you surmise.

—Because “would donate,” while virtuous is being blocked by the “too lazy.” Your will is still not in line with God’s.—

While I don’t think the question is all that difficult, I think you’re missing the thrust of his point. He’s pointing out that the EXACT same aspect of ones character can block both sin and virtue. Changing the “block” might lead to virtue in one case, but also to sin in another.

—As for why God cares…it’s because he loves you.—

Unless you misread robert’s post, this answer is a non-sequitur. What he was asking was not why God cares about him in general, but rather why God would care about non-realities? You might argue that dirty thoughts are signals of ones will not being in line with God’s, but that’s a little strange, because god is omniscient, and doesn’t need signals. So it still doesn’t explain why it would be a sin.

I believe this is approaching the issue from the wrong direction; the idea is that sin is a problem all by itself (it effectively creates a barrier separating the individual from God; God would be naturally concerned about that. It isn’t that God is waiting to whack you with his big stick when your thoughts stray out of line.