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Most religions recognize a distinction between sins against people and sins against God. Sins against people are easy to understand, but what does it really mean to sin against God? To sin means to do something wrong, and presumably doing something wrong means that there is some harm somewhere. But where is the harm in sinning against God? God cannot be harmed, so the harm must be elsewhere. One may argue that sinning against God is sinning against oneself spiritually, but this is a circular argument. This argument is basically that sin is harmful because it is a sin. This isn't a very satisfying argument, and makes much less sense than the clear understanding of sins against people.
So I will offer a clear explanation of sins against God. Sins against God are things that are harmful to future generations of your society. In the case of sins against people, you know exactly which individuals were harmed. In the case of sins against God, the harm is broad and affects all of the people in society in the future. But in both cases, sins against people and sins against God, the harm is equally real. Both cause human suffering.
Let's consider the sin of worshipping other gods. What is the problem with this? These other gods don't exist, so by worshipping them you aren't risking that these gods take advantage of you somehow. The problem with other gods is that they represent a different set of values from the values of God. God's values, as recorded in the Old Testament and the Quran, are the values that produce the most successful societies. By promoting other gods, you would be promoting values that will lead to the fall of your society which will cause suffering in future generations. So the sin of worshipping other gods is a sin against future generations.
Now let's consider the example of Christianity. Christianity claims to have a trinity, but the "Holy Spirit" doesn't seem so much a god as a super angel. So in reality, Christianity has 2 gods, the Father who is the god of the Old Testament and the Quran, and the Son who is Jesus. The Quran repeatedly warns against considering a Jesus to be a god, but we can only understand the full reasoning of the Quran now that we have seen how Christianity has played out in modern culture. As long as Christianity truly respected both of their gods, they mostly did God's will and their societies thrived. But American Protestants in the 1800s began to claim that the New Testament replaces the Old Testament and so Christianity has no need to follow Old Testament values. In effect, this was choosing Jesus over God. And this was the beginning of the end of Western Culture. So the risk of worshipping other gods as partners with God is that this may easily lead to choosing other gods over God which will lead to bad values and the destruction of society as I described above.
How should one look at a secular culture like modern culture? It has no gods, so what is the problem with it? If one considers the reasoning behind the prohibition against worshipping other gods, one can find the answer. The reason against worshipping other gods is that they represent values harmful to society. In the past, before television, the internet, and formal schooling, the main way that a society taught its people its values was through the worship of its gods. But today, modern culture promotes its values through entertainment and schooling. Because modern culture has these tools, it doesn't need false gods. So by you watching modern television and sending your children to modern schools, you are effectively worshipping the "gods" of modern culture. The result is exactly the same as worshipping other gods. But which gods exactly? If you really look at the values of modern culture, these are the values of most degenerate idol-worshipping cultures in history. So every Muslim who watches television and sends their children to public school is guilty of shirk.
A Muslim from the Middle East may object by saying that the West is so advanced and has low crime, so how can it really be so terrible? The answer is again found in the reasoning. The sins against God affect future generations, not the current generation. A few generations ago, the West was still Christian and still had some respect for God and so it did not sin so much. The current wealth and justice in the West is a product of these past generations that respected God. But today the sins in the West are worse than the sins in the Muslim world, which means that in future generations the West will be worse off than the Muslim world. If you commit the shirk of participating in modern culture, your descendants will suffer the consequences.
As a non-muslim, the unseen and the hereafter are outside of my scope. But since this issue is important to Muslims, I want to mention this briefly. Modern Islam portrays this world and the hereafter as entirely separate realms and encourages Muslims to largely ignore this world and instead focus on the hereafter. But I find no basis for this view in the Quran where this world and the hereafter seem fundamentally linked as part of one whole. This Quranic view fits with my reasoning. If Islam is correct that God judges people's lives in this world and then rewards or punishes them appropriately in the hereafter, it would only make sense for the punishment to be proportional to the harm that the person caused in this world. And if this is done on the day of judgement, then one will be able to look back and see the harm that the person caused to future generations. God will be able to point this out in explaining the reasoning for the punishment of the sins against God which harmed future generations.
In summary, accepting modern culture is a violation of the First Commandment in the Old Testament, and is shirk in Islam, because it is effectively the same as worshipping other gods. To avoid this sin, do not watch television, do not send your children to modern schools, and avoid modern entertainment of all kinds. Be conscious that modern culture is no different from a culture of idol worshippers, and so it must be rejected.
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