Debt is Sin


By Peter-Shaun Tyrell

Photo courtesy of Hartwig HKD.

In religious terms, the notions of debt and sin are very closely linked. There are many different interpretations of the bible in which these words are used interchangeably, especially in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.’ Or as The King James Bible puts it, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who have debted against us.’ They also mirror each other in the sense that a debt needs to be repaid and a sin needs to be forgiven.

It is interesting to know that debt actually came from sin as well as guilt. The three words actually mean the same thing and all were born from religion, even though some of us are not religious we still find ourselves in debt, which is actually sin.

When we look up debt in the dictionary sin is the first definition, and the two words are synonymous with each other. In a religious context, the reason why ‘sin’ burdens us is the repercussion of guilt from our actions. Debt is the constant thought the money we make is not our own (and sadly money is what our whole life will revolved around) because until our debt has been repaid we are living on a loan.

The mental and emotional state of the debtor becomes weighed down in a tangible–yet spiritual–way, it can even feel like it transpires to their physical state. In such a way, the connection transcends mere dictionary definitions, having dripped through time and language, over 2,000 years and at least three different languages. In Hebrew texts of the Old Testament it referred to sins as being a physical burden that we carry around with us–and in Latin, the word sons (the English root of the word sin) means guilt.

There are some theorists that say The King James Bible, the one most frequently used in England was actually a political manifesto, not used entirely for spiritual enlightenment. To their credit, it is King James’s that is the version which uses ‘debtors’ in the Lord’s Prayer–a connotation that was used both intentionally and literally as the idea was meant to mirror how we use currency in relation to being ‘forgiven’ our sins.

However, later Abrahamic religions came to look at debt and guilt as two separate entities that they didn’t originate from the one source. There is a current topic of discussion especially amongst the Christian forums philosophizing whether debt is an actual sin. Most of them agree that to be in debt is to be in sin as Holy Scripture states that to be a borrower is to be a slave to the lender. More modern views see that debt is now more a commodity or a tangential function of the financial system than a moral imperative.

Part of the reason modernity has loosened the connection between debt and sin is because an economy based on currency and promissory notes requires debt to exist in order to function. The same can be said for religion because without sin we have little reason to seek spiritual enlightenment in the sense that we have to break the habit of ‘doing bad things.’

Debt and sin (or guilt) are working together harmoniously in modern years to create a monster of mental burden. As the modern world plunges into larger amounts of debt, we see countries go bankrupt and banks fall high off their pedestals because of the weight of debt. The idea that an entire country can go bankrupt leaves little confidence for a struggling graduate who needs to pay off their student debt.

Debt guilt is a recent term used to describe how we feel regret over the loans we have taken out or the purchases we have made on credit. I was speaking to a friend recently and he said that he ‘regretted’ going to university because of the debt he has been put in. What has made it worse is he is so far from the field related to his degree he sees his years at university as a waste of time. Debt guilt has driven him to this belief and has forced him to forget all the other benefits that university has given him.

However even though debt and sin are similar and are a big part of our society they are entirely imagined constructs. Debt is a human concept which is arbitrarily assigned since it is based on the idea that materials and deeds have a specific, numerical value. Sin works in a similar way–assigning actions a spiritual value.

The only variable we attribute to these fictions that give them value is in the emotional form of guilt guilt. We can feel guilt, thus it is real than dollar amounts or words on an ancient pain and we can quantify that guilt giving each sin or debt a value.

Before you feel too much guilt on the debt or sin that needs to be repaid, remember they are only real because we make them real. Being ‘weighed’ down by them is purely within the mind and the only thing that stops you from being relieved of this weight is you.