You know, this topic is really haunting me.
Could some Christians weigh in on this?
Ok. So everyone is a sinner. But you do recognize some hierarchy of sin. Don't you?
I mean, let's take Ariel Castro - they guy who kidnapped, imprisoned, raped and tortured three women for more than a decade. He was a Christian. Went to church every Sunday, while these women were chained up in his home
And then, let's take the bored housewife, who becomes arrogant at the PTA meeting.
I mean, do you recognize a difference here? Or is a sin a sin a sin, and we are all sinners, so it doesn't matter which sins we commit?
In Catholic theology there is a difference. That's what purgatory is all about - it's like heaven's mud room where you scrape off all the crap (sin) still attached to your soul so you can get in and party with jesus. The main (and terribly simplified) difference between justification between protestants and catholics is that protestants believe sin is forgiven and therefore one is *declared* righteous (right with god, or on equal footing, sin-wise). Catholics believe sin must be expelled so a person actually *becomes* righteous (heh, I laugh at the bias in my catholic catechism in this explanation, it seemed so objective once upon a time). In this way, righteousness, can a person exist in proximity to god, because "no unclean thing" can coexist with god. In purgatory you're expected to recognize your faults, the sins that inspired them, and let that go. CS Lewis' literary analogy of the red lizard
fits in nicely here.
This was a great source of comfort to me as a practicing catholic because, as you say, a person ought to be at least remotely aware of their sin. Would god really ignore just walking past a homeless woman without so much as making eye contact, nevermind refusing to drop a single coin in her bowl, as one glides right into Macy's to buy perfume and earrings? However, it's also the concept that Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to rationalize watching and helping people suffer. The more you suffer now, the better you have it in purgatory, the sooner you can get to the punch bowl in heaven and get your serving of manna, new name, and white rock (Revelation 2:17). In any case, to answer your question, yes, there is a hierarchy in catholic theology, and protestants will say there is a difference with regard to temporal consequences. Ultimately, however, sin, any sin, separates one from god. That's where the idea that "all sin is equal" comes from.
Back to the OP, I think this article "The Brain on Tria
l" is a nice summary of the problem of punishment based on behavior (which is what sin is - a failed theory of behavior). Here's an excerpt:
The lesson from all these stories is the same: human behavior cannot be separated from human biology. If we like to believe that people make free choices about their behavior (as in, “I don’t gamble, because I’m strong-willed”), cases like Alex the pedophile, the frontotemporal shoplifters, and the gambling Parkinson’s patients may encourage us to examine our views more carefully. Perhaps not everyone is equally “free” to make socially appropriate choices.
For me, personally, the idea some people can't ever help "sinning" was what started chipping away at my faith. Learning about autistic spectrum disorders, and especially teaching socially appropriate behaviors, helped me understand the difference between "sin" and "impulse." We can control many impulses, but many we cannot. Also, many we simply don't recognize in ourselves or others. In talking with theists about behavior and biology, however, there seems to be a roadblock if we move along too fast. It's almost as if they can fathom that a person with an obvious neurological abnormality can't be held accountable for socially inappropriate behaviors (which is really what "sin" is), but the idea that there is no "ideal" neurology, there is no universal mark of perfection to which we all miss in measure sounds like I'm advocating everyone gets their own Twinkies Defense Card to be used at any time.
Still, I like the argument presented in the OP, and that resonates with me because it was the angle that first cracked through my religion-dependent thinking. The idea that "sin" is a theory of behavior, and "redemption" is the solution for this problem of sin, just doesn't hold water when one learns about behavior objectively. It's the same pattern of rejecting the theory of God's Wrath when explaining weather patterns. Only, we're now learning to explain behavior patterns. And we're doing it through objective observation, data collection, critical analysis, and extensive peer-review. In short, we're learning to explain behavior via the scientific method, not religious method (obtained through divine revelation and personal SPAG). Slowly but surely I think many theists will catch on. Most recognize Pat Robertson for the bozo he is when he claims tsunamis and earthquakes are God's temper tantrum for humans having the audacity to let two women get married, but the perception of free will and the freedom to choose to be good is an illusion still very much supported by our culture, even without chesus mucking it all up.