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Asking the clergy: Are all sins equal?

Sin: Ask anyone what it is, and you'll get as many definitions as people you query. But are all sins equally bad? Will one be as condemned for complimenting a co-worker on a bad haircut as for lying under oath? Our clergy shed light on the nature of sins.

Brother Gary Cregan, O.S.F., principal, St. Anthony's High School, Huntington:

Sin falls in the category of mortal and venial. Mortal sins have consequences, one of which is the loss of eternal life. Venial sins are sins that separate us to a lesser degree from the Church. In both mortal and venial sins, reconciliation and penance are necessary for one's wholeness in faith. The source of sin is pride, that first sin of Adam's.

I clearly see a difference between murder and lying to a friend. Why would that not be an obvious difference? Murder would be a mortal sin. Is there something common between mortal and venial sin? Yes. It is our human fall. But clearly, there is a big difference between grave or capital sins and sins that may only wound the person who is sinning. But, when you start to hurt others, it may be venial, but it also could be mortal and put you at danger of your eternal life.

Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between a mortal and venial sin, evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Catholic Church, and is supported by human experience.

Pastor Ray Cazis, senior pastor, International Baptist Church, Stony Brook:

I don't think they are equal in man's eyes, but, yes, they're all equal in God's eyes. We humans tend to have stronger feelings about one thing over another. But, by what the Lord says, if we offend in one point, then we are guilty in all points. God puts the same emphasis on all sins. We might call something a white lie and think it is less of a lie. They're all lies to God.

While all sins are the same, the consequences of sin aren't all the same. That can cause confusion. We mistakenly think that because the consequences of murder are worse than telling a lie, murder must be a worse sin than telling a lie. No, not in the eyes of God. A lot of people won't see it that way because it isn't logical. Many things Jesus said go against human logic.

Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov, Sinai Reform Temple, Bay Shore:

Within Judaism, we categorize sins in two ways. One can sin against another person, or one can sin against God. For all sins, you can always do teshuvah, which means repentance. You never have to wait until a special time of day or night, or any special time of year.

For a sin against God, you can repent within your heart, through your prayers. For a sin against another person, you can never be truly repentant until you go to that person and ask for forgiveness. Our tradition teaches that you can go to the person as many as three times. If the person refuses to forgive, it is upon them to become a forgiving person.

There is only one sin for which you can never repent. That is for committing suicide. If you've committed suicide, how can you say you're sorry? It is such an ultimate act. For every other sin, you have the ability to repent and to change.

So, the answer is yes, and no. Yes, some sins are more grave than others, and therefore are not all equal. When a more grave sin is committed, it takes a lot more repentance, more soul searching to find forgiveness. But, we believe that God forgives, and there always is a path back to righteousness. So, while sins are different, they all are the same in that they all have a road back to repentance.

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