Another interesting revelation in our discussion of authoritarian dynamics in religion, is that although the concept of sin is common to all religions, the definition of sin varies.
There is no religion which does not deal in some fashion with sin, and methods for recognizing and overcoming it. The various concepts of sin differ of course with various types of religion. In primitive religions, sin may be conceived essentially as the violation of a tabu and of little or no ethical implication. In authoritarian religion, sin is primarily disobedience to authority, and only secondarily a violation of ethical norms.
In authoritarian religious dynamics, sin is no longer primarily a transgression against God. Sin is primarily an offense against authority. The what, is the reaction to sin in authoritarian religion?
In the authoritarian attitude, the recognition of one’s sins is frightening, because to have sinned, means to have disobeyed powerful authorities, who will punish the sinner.
Moral failures are so many acts of rebellion, which can be atoned only in a new orgy of submission.
The reaction to one’s feeling of guilt that is of being depraved and powerless, of throwing oneself completely at the mercy of the authority, and thus hoping to be forgiven. The mood of this kind of repentance is one of fear and trembling.
The sinner, having indulged in the feeling of depravity, is morally weakened, filled with hate and disgust for himself, and hence prone to sin again, when he is over his orgy of self-flagellation.
This reaction is less extreme, when his religion offers him ritualistic atonement, or the words of a priest who can absolve him from his guilt.
However, he pays for his alleviation of the pain of guilt, by dependence on those who are privileged to dispense absolution.