Quora Q&A site Quora. Photo: Quora

This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by James Waldron Hertsch.

I don't think atheists necessarily "just want to sin."  Very few people turn atheist, then grow a goatee,  crow, "Now I can sin all I want!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!!"  and then rampage across the countryside.  But I think there are a couple open items:

The "sin" of impiety.  A polite atheist isn't going to go out of his way to insult a religious person.  But at the same time, an atheist is not likely to attend church, pray, honor the name of a god, or participate in any sort of religious ritual.  If you define this sort of lack of piety as a "sin," then yes, the atheist sins by omission every minute of every day.  While some of us are glad to have Sunday morning free (if you're in a Christian-oriented country), it's not like an atheist sets out to be as impious as he can.  It's simply an aspect of who he is ... of who I am.

What is a sin?  Atheists and theists, I think, agree that some acts constitute "sins," as it were.  Murder, robbery, and rebooting Full House are all awful acts.  But religions, especially fundamentalist sects, tack on other "sins."  Homosexuality, close proximity to a member of the opposite sex, and refusal to submit to a male's authority have all been classified as "sins."  I can't speak completely for other atheists, but I categorically reject the notion that any of these acts are "sins."  Rather, they strike me as man-made laws ... and (esp. the rules re: women) rules that are sexist to boot.

Religious leaders' sins.  This sort of thing put me on the path to atheism, and I think it turned others there as well.  In Christianity, greed is a sin.  A huge sin.  And it's considered virtuous to give to others.  Yet you have people like Jim Bakker, who embezzled money from his ministry, and the aptly named Creflo Dollar, who sought donations so he could buy himself a private jet.  Not to mention every instance of a religious leader who preached sexual purity, yet had his own indiscretions, or religious leaders who preach "do not kill," unless it's in service to their interpretation of the deity. 

This kind of hypocrisy turns people off ... and it starts one thinking.  If these people act inconsistent with their religions laws -- even laws they putatively believe, then is there any truth to those laws, to those words?  It's a powerful question.