Original Sin

The notion of original sin is unique to Western Christianity.  Jesus taught to the contrary: children are not so tainted. “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 19: 14.

Wikipedia describes original sin, its origins, its various interpretations and applications at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin:

According to a Christian theological doctrine, original sin, also called ancestral sin,[1] is humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man,[2] stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.[3]

The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualistGnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine,[2] seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.[4][5][6][7][8]Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that humanity shares in Adam’s sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine’s formulation of original sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence, affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom.[2] Within Roman Catholicism, the Jansenist movement, which the Church then declared heretical, also maintained that original sin destroyed freedom of will.[9] On the other hand, some modern Protestants deny that the doctrine has a basis in Scripture.[10]

There are many western Christians who reject the notion of original sin.  Emerson rejected it in Self-Reliance:

Our young people are diseased with the theological problems of original sin, origin of evil, predestination, and the like. These never presented a practical difficulty to any man,– never darkened any man’s road, who did not go out of his way to seek them.

Albert Schweitzer writes in his book, published posthumously, The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity:

Out of the story of Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit there arose in late Judaism, and passed over into Christianity, the doctrine that this sin continues to be at work in all mankind. So long as the words of scripture still have some validity–and the words which the earliest records of Jesus give us surely stand supreme–no one ought to expect a Christian to regard this doctrine, which was unknown to Jesus, as part of the essence of the Christian faith. Christians must be allowed to think in this matter as Jesus did. Jesus gives us in his speeches an insight into the essential nature of sin which needs no elaboration in the direction of a doctrine of original sin. Belief in this dogmatic view of sin is not the same thing as grasping and experiencing the problem of guilt in all its depth.

Schweitzer recognized that Truth is not always to be expressed or accessed by the literal rendering of Biblical writings.  Sometimes the Bible points to Truths without bounding them with the limitations of language:

The expectation of the Kingdom which would come of itself was not to find actual fulfillment. For centuries Christianity looked for it in vain. It could not easily come to terms with the fact. It had to try to understand what could be learned from it. When it applied itself to the interpretation of the signs of the times, it could understand them only as meaning that it was called upon to renounce its old ideas and learn anew. The task was laid upon it of giving up its belief in the Kingdom which would come of itself and giving its devotion to the Kingdom which must be made real.

Paul the thinker recognized as the essence of the Kingdom of God which was coming into existence that it consists in the rule of the Spirit. We learn from this knowledge which comes to us through him that the way in which the coming of the Kingdom will be brought about is by the coming of Jesus Christ to rule in our hearts and through us in the whole world. In the thought of Paul the supernatural Kingdom is beginning to become the ethical and with this to change from the Kingdom to be expected into something which has to be realized. It is for us to take the road which this prospect opens up.

Joseph Campbell interprets the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as expressive of the human condition within the fields of opposites.  Christian fundamentalists, indeed mainstream Western Christianity, view that disobedience as a fatal defect which was passed from Adam and to all humanity as though it were a thing, a fatal gene.

I do not see the act of “disobedience” as representing anything more than expressing the human condition in the field of action: how does one balance self interest with the interests of others; how does one live in right relationship?  It is a metaphor for the transformation of the human heart by the Christ, God with us.  Salvation is being set free to live, not a state of being acquired by adopting “right belief.”  Salvation is one of the gifts of righteousness, i.e. living in right relationship with others and with our world, not a static state of being.

At the outset, I stated that original sin is a Western feature of Christianity.  Eastern Christianity (Greek Orthodox) did not adopt it.  Salvation is through Jesus, it would hold its, but god is merciful.  A fine distinction is drawn by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Christian_theology :

Salvation, or “being saved,” therefore, refers to this process of being saved from death and corruption and the fate of hell. The Orthodox Church believes that its teachings and practices represent the true path to participation in the gifts of God. Yet, it should be understood that the Orthodox do not believe that you must be Orthodox to participate in salvation. God is merciful to all. The Orthodox believe that there is nothing that a person (Orthodox or non-Orthodox) can do to earn salvation. It is rather a gift from God. However, this gift of relationship has to be accepted by the believer, since God will not force salvation on humanity. Man is free to reject the gift of salvation continually offered by God. To be saved, man must work together with God in a synergeia whereby his entire being, including his will, effort and actions, are perfectly conformed with, and united to, the divine.

In Judaism there are some Old Testament notions that the sins of the father may be punished in succeeding generations, and that is not based upon inherited sin from Adam.  To the contrary, Ezekiel 18:20 provides, “The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

Islam holds that we are born innocent, pure; that sin is determined strictly by what we do during our lifetime, neither condemned by nature nor saved by faith without works.  The mere thought of sinful acts is not a sin: only the act.  Sin is violation of the laws of God, not a state of being.  We are judged by our deeds, and then, not by the mere fact that we have sinned, but that sin is balanced according to whether it is major or minor and the balance among them.  Nonetheless, God is merciful and sin may be forgiven upon repentance.   In fact, the Koran provides precisely to the contrary to the nature of original sin: “. . . “…man can have nothing but what he strives for” (Quran 53:38–39).  And, “Who receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit: who goes astray does so to his own loss: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another …” (Quran 17:15)

Buddhism has no God who sits in judgment of humankind.  The Buddha is neither an incarnation of God, nor a Savior.  It shares with the other religions a deep respect for all life.  There is no place in it for either sin or original sin.  All life is marked by suffering, but it has nothing to do with punishment.

Next page: https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/preface-to-universal-truths-expressed-in-math/


One thought on “Original Sin

  1. I think Jesus’ use of a child as a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven is not because they are innocent, but because they are dependent. His point was that we should trust in God as a child trusts in a loving parent.
    Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–” The implication of this is that sin is part of the human condition.

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