Sin and Disorder
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One question I am commonly asked by people of faith is, “Can sin be considered a disorder?” Typically what the person who asks this question wants to know is, “Can behavior associated with psychiatric disorders (for which there may or may not be a treatment) be considered sinful or wrong?” Many negative behaviors considered “sinful” (e.g., rage, lying/stealing, addiction) are associated with specific psychiatric disorders. But does calling a behavior the Bible considers sinful, a disorder, somehow make that behavior no longer sin? Absolutely not!

In the context of medicine, a disorder is a condition in which there is a disturbance of normal functioning. To be disordered is to be broken; thrown into a state of disarray or confusion. In no way does labeling a behavior as disordered cause one to assume that the behavior is normal or accepted. In fact just the opposite is true; disordered behavior is abnormal and implies the need for change. Sinful behavior, like all behavior, is a complex interplay between physical (biological), mental and spiritual factors. I find that the choice of label, disorder or sin, often results from one’s perspective. If one focuses on the external or physical (biological), ignoring the spiritual, then one may call an abnormal behavior a disorder while a focus on internal or spiritual aspects may result in the same behavior being labeled as sin. One label does not somehow change or limit the other; both describe the same behavior from different vantage points or perspectives.

The labeling of a behavior as both sin and disorder often results from the availability of effective treatments or interventions that temper or limit the expression of the problem behavior. Given that all behavior is rooted in biology, it is understandable then that some sinful behaviors (e.g., addiction) can be altered through the use of physical remedies. The fact that there is such an overlap between behaviors considered disordered and those considered sinful is further proof that both biological and spiritual factors are involved. This having been said, it is important to realize that while some sins may rightly be thought of as disorders, not all disordered behavior is sin.

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