History of Sin: Its Evolution to Today and Beyond

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In A History of Sin, John Portmann argues that especially since 9/11, the reality of sin has made a strong comeback, and he believes that even liberal Christians, who have downplayed the notion of sin, have to take the fact of personal evildoing seriously. Starting in the present, Portmann then loops back into the past to outline the key moments in the history of sin from the ancient Greeks and Israelites through Jesus and Paul to Augustine and Dante and on up to the present. A History of Sin reveals how some kinds of sin, such as usury, have faded or undergone radical transformation, and how other activities, such as slavery, polygamy, gender inequality, etc., have come to be regarded as sinful. In this highly readable volume, Portmann examines how our changing understanding of sin impacts today's society.

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Editorial Reviews

Aaron Ben-Zeév
In this most original and thought-provoking book, Portmann persuasively shows that humans will always sin, though they may attempt to decrease the number and the seriousness of such sins. A must-read, and not only for sinners.
John Henry Schlegel
In this lively, thoughtful, and well-researched book, Portmann demonstrates that sin does have a history and that in the last half century or so people have paid less and less attention to sin and its historical twin, absolution, as a result of suffering from sin fatigue, a weariness of heart from the effort not to sin and the time spent in seeking absolution. After chronicling the way that both masturbation and lack of chastity have ceased to be seen as sins, he looks with sly irony at various contemporary activities that he sees as part of 'sin's vast future.' But Portmann reserves his most careful, indeed dazzlingly sensitive argument for the proposition that the feeling of some white students that affirmative action in higher education has harmed them is but a reflection of their inability to name the sin perpetrated by their elders who fashioned a remedy for their misdeeds the pain of which they do not have to bear. It alone is a sucker punch that every adult in higher education should be compelled to read.
Jean Philippe Bouilloud
Drawing on history of religion, philosophy, and social history, this book explores the social construction of sin. It argues that sin, far from being simply a fixed and transcendental standard of human behavior, reveals itself as very much a human concept that is socially and historically conditioned while remaining a reality of the human condition.
Library Journal

The terror and trauma of 9/11 raised questions about the reality of evil and the notion of sin, concepts that had all but faded from public discourse at the opening of the 21st century. In this informative, readable survey, Portmann (religious studies, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville; When Bad Things Happen to Other People) traces the evolution of sin from the present to the past. He examines how the ancient Greeks, the Israelites, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, and Dante viewed sin before going on to provide an overview of "modern sins," including homophobia, racism, and drunk driving. What's more, he peers into the future of sin, or "what we as a group will accept or deny is sin's future." Portmann is well qualified to write on this topic. His important work, reminiscent of Karl Menninger's What Ever Became of Sin?and M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie, is recommended without reservation for both academic and public libraries.-C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL

—C. Brian Smith
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742558137
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/28/2007
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

John Portmann is professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is the author of When Bad Things Happen to Other People, Sex & Heaven, and Bad for Us.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction — Sin Today Chapter 2 Sin Fatigue: The Dilution and Demotion of Sin Chapter 3 Atonement Fatigue Chapter 4 Catholic Masturbation and Modern Science Chapter 5 Virginity: Almost a Sin? Chapter 6 Modern Sins Chapter 7 The Sins of Our Fathers: Paying for Affirmative Action Chapter 8 The Best We Can Do

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