Western society does not have much time for sin. Not the sins themselves, of course – those we like very much. We pursue them, wrap our arms around them, brag about how Courtney Love we got the other night. But when it comes to the idea that fornication or ditching work or imbibing excessive amounts alcohol should bring spiritual guilt, confession, and penance, that’s as outdated as the whole masturbation-will-send-you-straight-to-hell thing.

Seven Deadly Sins: A Very Partial List by Aviad Kleinberg. Belknap. 208 pages. $22.95.

Christianity is a religion built almost completely around the idea of sin. Its central image: The world and its people are so full of sin and degradation that God had to come to Earth and die a violent death in order to redeem mankind. The different sects have different ways of dealing with sin,… More…