Is Sin An Antiquated Concept? by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate

I believe many could and would characterize abuse and exploitation as varying degrees of sin, from gossip and verbal intimidation on one end of the spectrum to murder, rape or thievery on the other. Yet, while we’ve normalized some acts that we recognize fall into the categories of abuse and exploitation, if you asked someone if society has normalized sin, I suspect most people would say “of course not.” I believe that cognitive disconnect is proof we’ve become numb and acculturated to many forms of abuse. The concept of sin, and what constitutes sin along with redemption, purification and penance are not on the minds of people today as they once were, despite the rampant abuse and exploitation, aka sin. We accept it like we’ve come to believe greed is good when it once was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I think prosperity gospels too need to be evaluated for the anti-Jesus message these teachings perpetuate that does little to advance an evolved and compassionate humanity. 

Getting back to sin, in bygone days, being free of sin was paramount. Deities and their agents often had the role of savior, saving people from their vices and bad acts. Jesus died on the cross to save mankind from their sins. Priests doled out penance to redeem us from our misdeeds we revealed in the confessional. Savior Goddesses, like the Black Madonnas and Isis, were known to offer a listening ear to confessions we might not be able to bring ourselves to utter elsewhere. Going back to the time of the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, the Goddess Tlazolteotl played a similar role in society. She took in or “ate” the excrement of humanity, in other words, their sins. She excreted it as, for lack of a better word, divine excrement, referred to as “holy shit” by author Cecelia F. Klein, and in doing so rid the world of evil and sin so society might live in harmony. This was seen as a necessary service, taking in the bad deeds of people, purifying the excrement, making it holy and thus saved humanity from itself. There was one catch, though. You only got this “get out of jail free card” once, so you’d better mind your P’s and Q’s—your behavior—going forward.

From medieval times through the turn of the 19th century in Scotland, England and Wales, being free of sin was still important, but the sin eaters were no longer deities, but poor humans. Desperate people in need of a meal or a few bucks would hire themselves out for funeral rites where they were believed to absorb the sins of the deceased. They would literally consume bread or cakes and beer provided by the family of the deceased and by doing so, it was widely believed, the sins of the dead were absorbed into the food being eaten by the living human sin eater. Relatives or children of the deceased could escape being burdened by the “sins of the father” and the dead could pass on to heaven. A norm of the day, the sin eater was considered noble and his or her service a practical and necessary act to save or absolve society. While I’m glad for the remorse people might possibly have felt on their death beds, which might be more than contemporary people feel today by today’s mores, I can’t shake the feeling this was a final act of exploitation upon a poor schmuck, unwittingly engaged in self abuse, to rid a sinner of a lifetime of bad deeds for a few dollars and a meal. And this was a custom that was practiced for centuries, even coming to the New World when immigrants from Europe came to America.

It turns out there’s a new twist on the modern concept of sin eaters. There exists today a Sin Eaters Guild in Britain. According to their mission statement they believe most people are disconnected from the harsh realities of the world. They carry out acts “dangerous and unfashionable” which others are incapable of, in their jobs such as soldiers, first responders and veterans. It’s unclear if this means some might be mercenaries for hire or if they do things that by today’s mores might be politically incorrect, immoral or illegal. Their logo is the Hanged Man of the tarot deck, imprinted on their merchandise for sale, and interpreted by the Sin Eaters Guild as being about sacrifice for the good of others. I guess we can rationalize anything these days. 

Yet I wonder…if we began once again to see greed for the sin it is, and name it sin, loudly and publicly, might we once again begin to reject it? I’m talking call it out like the #MeToo movement took down some abusers. Can we expand on that?  Likewise, if we loudly and publicly and rightly named other examples of abuse and exploitation the sin that it is, might we be able to awaken to it and reject it as well rather than normalize it or become acculturated to it as we apparently have?  

 In my new book which just came out, Normalizing Abuse;  A Commentary on the Culture of Pervasive Abuse contributors were asked for snippets and anecdotes about abuse and exploitation they had suffered. Two made some very astute observations about workplace abuse and the title of boss. Of course we need a supervisor in the workplace so there is organization and not chaos. Someone has to facilitate the work getting done. Boss can have a benign connotation, but I wonder when we read the definitions for boss below can we ever un-see them? Will responding to one’s supervisor as “boss” in the workplace ever be the same? Can we utter the word now we can see the sinister or potentially insidious connotation?  Will it catch in our throat? Should it?

As we begin rethinking and redefining abuse and exploitation for what it is, here might be a simple place to start…Boss, as a verb, as in “to boss,” means to impose one’s will on, to domineer or dominate, or to order about. Mafia boss comes to mind, as does a former president or a slave driver. To show someone who is boss! To bully or push around.  Boss as a noun, also refers to the sharp spike or bump on a device or shield that’s used as a weapon. The boss inflicts injury when it skims, scrapes or punctures the enemy. It turns out the word boss comes from the Dutch word base which meant master. In the words of one of my contributors, “To call someone “boss” while claiming you are living freely is an interesting example of the sometimes subtle workplace abuse.” Or might I suggest how we tend to normalize abuse to survive.  Food for thought.

NOTE from Karen: Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio podcast is back LIVE streaming at 11am Pacific most Wednesdays!  Or catch it later from the archives at your convenience.  Here’s the link on Blog Talk Radio or follow the show and Karen’s work on Facebook at

 After a two year hiatus, the show has returned to the airwaves January 4th at 11am Pacific with the topic The Minoan Solution for a Caring World with Laura Perry.  January 11 features one of the F&R contributors, Mara Branscombe delving into Ritual as Remedy to Heal Our Soul or Life Wounds.  Foremother Riane Eisler appears in January on the special day and time of Thursday, January 19 at 1pm discussing her new book, also the topic of the show, Nurturing Our Humanity.  The final show in January on Wednesday the 25th at 11am highlights another F&R contributor, Judith Shaw discussing the alternative healing modality in our topic Storytelling and Divination as Remedy for Healing. 

Previous shows of Voices of the Sacred Feminine are available in the archives and feature noted foremothers and wayshowers, women and men, some who have passed on, but their voices live on the show as beacons offering their wisdom and showing the way.

To purchase Karen’s book, click here for Amazon.

BIO: Karen Tate is a thought leader, speaker, seven-times published author, podcaster and social justice activist, Karen is a Caring Economy Conversation leader and Power of Partnership presenter.  She has a certification from Smith College in the Psychology of Political Activism:  Women Changing the World and she can be seen in the award-winning docu-film, Femme: Women Healing the World.  She has been named one of thirteen Most Influential Women in Goddess Spirituality.  Her newest book, Normalizing Abuse: A Commentary on Our Pervasive Culture of Abuse is scheduled to be published in January along with the return of her long-running podcast, Voices of the Sacred.  For more information:

8 thoughts on “Is Sin An Antiquated Concept? by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate”

  1. Greed, lack of kindness, and inability or unwillingness to experience empathy etc ARE today’s norm…I don’t see anything changing unless the whole system collapses – and we are living a slow death – when someone behaves with integrity and genuine decency I am thrilled – they’re still alive – and for moments I feel something akin to hope… here on FAR we have so many people who care – this is the primary reason I read each post and usually comment – I just wish we were the norm…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said Sara. In the book I cover a plethora of abuse and exploitation, aka sin, if you will, in academia, military, government, friends and family, society and culture, religion, media, corporations and the workplace that we all just accept as normal instead of pushing back. I hoped if we endure it we will at least see it for what it is instead of normalizing thereby giving it license to continue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen Sin far too much to not believe it exists. However, I think the concept of us having to beg and crawl on the ground because we are “unworthy” to be extremely antiquated


    1. Thank you Dina for giving me the opportunity to clarify. According to Jonathan Haeber the word boss originated from a Dutch word “baas” that means “master” and its use was a uniquely American way of avoiding the word “master” which had quickly become associated with slavery by the mid-19th century.


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