Monday, May 15, 2006

Original Sin

All of the 20th century theologians that I have read seem sceptical about the possibility of a meaningful use of the symbol “Original Sin”. There is just to much baggage attached to it. Especially in German and other languages that has a term that signifies “inherited sin” it is very problematical. Of course it is not about inheriting anything, not even Augustine believed that. And, no: it’s not about sex either.

Still I cannot see how we could possibly do without it. While sin in the sense I talked about yesterday has the individual as subject, for original sin the subject is humanity as a whole. Rahner has a very good point when he says that original sin is not really sin in the proper sense of the word, but only in an analogous sense. Exactly as sin is about the individual not being what he or she essentially is – free – Original sin is about humanity not realizing its freedom.

From the point of view of humanity, original sin is a tragedy. I will not enter into the discussion on the causes of original sin, I will just refer to Tillich, because his reading of genesis three is pure poetry. But from the point of view of the individual, original sin is a source of comfort. What original sin says is that it is not always within the power of the individual to do what is right. When we fail the guilt is not 100% ours to carry. Original sin is about adding the context to the formula. When an individual is making a choice, it is not only the free will of the person making the choice. This choice is affected by millions of previous choices, made by other people. When a person makes a choice, that person is affected by the social context, by upbringing and education, by values in the society and so on. The sum of all these things outside of the person that affects a moral act makes up original sin.

This is why original sin is a key concept when we want to understand the current cultural situation. There are structures in our culture that make it impossible to live a life that is not destructive. We all participate in those forces that are bringing the world to ruin, and more often than not because of lack of alternatives. The international trade laws and the way we produce food are good examples. It is near on impossible to go buy groceries without inflicting suffering and increasing the injustice in the world. Still we need groceries.

The thing with original sin is that its cause is not known. Even the myth in genesis three leaves the final cause open, it only shows the structure of sin. We cannot point our fingers and say: he did it. It is just there, and we have to live with it. But it still diffuses a bit of the guilt of the evil we cause. Even though we are the acting subjects, we are not totally free in the act.

It is, however, not a reason to resign. By trying to understand the history we can try to separate ourselves from the system that affects us, and by being aware we can limit the impact original sin has on our daily life.

Is there salvation from sin? This is what Christianity claims. In what way is the Christ-event related to this situation? This well have to be addressed in another post.


rob horton said...

Charles Finney would have freaked at the concept of letting someone out of their personal responsibility with regards to the destuctive attitudes and actions they participated in. I believe the concept of original sin is one that spills into every other area of our theological paradigm. To many original sin follows us through total depravity. Augustine and Calvin's view of total depravity to not permit the will to be free to yield to the grace of God. The elect are overwhelmed by the saving grace, while others are not given this saving opportunity. I believe we all stand without excuse! We can not say to the Creator, if only you knocked me off my horse like you did Paul, then I would have let You have my heart. Interesting break down - but you give the impression that we are not as responsible for our sin as we might think. It reminds me a little bit of Billy Graham's presentation that we are all born with a disease called sin and Jesus is the remedy. The reality is that we are not victims of Adam's sin. We all have followed in his footsteps!

Patrik said...

Well, I guess it is this kind of understanding of original sin I am trying to counter. First of all I don't think Augustine taught total depravity, not at all. His idea of humanity as a massa perditiones is not about the total deprivation of humanity, it is about how we as individuals don't start at zero and go from there. Original since gives us a bad start.

And really, it is not about excusing sin, it is about giving a balanced view of the situation we as humans stand in.

We must remember that the doctrine of humans as the image of God is of a higher order that the doctrine of original sin. And an image is not an image if it bares no resemblance with the original. The image has not been destroyed by sin, but distorted.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who doubts we are born with "original sin" has obviously not given birth to a child! I have four children as my proof of sin's existence. ;)

Greta said...

Interesting post.

I was taught that 'original sin' is the tendancy, and even the ability to sin, while sins are the acts themselves. I've always found that approach to the matter helpful, not depressing, because it gives you something to ascribe your own sinfulness to, especially when you find yourself sinning against your own will.


Vynette said...

The doctrine of 'Original Sin' has no basis in the Old Testament for 'disobedience', 'deceit' and 'selfishness' are by no means inherited. Nor does the doctrine find any support in the New Testament. When attempts are made to justify 'original sin' the quotations are usually taken from Romans, Chapter 5 where we read:
"Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men for that all sinned."

If the rest of the Chapter is examined, it will be seen that this text does not justify 'original sin'. The purport of the chapter is summed up in verse 19: "For as through one man's disobedience, the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, the many shall be made righteous."

Those who follow Jesus are 'righteous', those who follow Adam are 'sinners'.

Paul describes Jesus as the 'last Adam' (1 Cor. 15:45). It follows logically from this that, even if Adam's sin was transmitted 'originally', such transmission ceased at the 'last Adam'. The Christian ecclesia claim to commence their teachings from this 'last Adam'. How then can a Christian church teach that Adam's sin is still being transmitted while recognising Jesus as the 'last Adam'?

In the First Epistle of John is demonstrated the 'unscripturalness' of this doctrine: "My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin... and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." (1 John 3:7-10)

Patrik said...

Thanks for you comment Vynette... Did you read my post?

Anonymous said...

Original sin is unimaginable tragedy. The world would be better without it. Sin is not a part of the God's plan of creation. Without any sin Resurrection, forgiveness, martyrdom would be absent, but insults of God's Majesty and damnation also would be absent.

Salah said...

The concept of the "Original sin" is not original at all especially in the Eastern Orthodox church.

"This book is not really about sin, but its result: death. Or more specifically, Romanides' thesis is that Western and Eastern Christendom gave very different answers to the question: Where did death come from? The West, he argues, thought death came from God. The East said it came from the free-will of the devil and man. The result was a fundamental break at nearly all levels of theology between West and East.

So, for instance, in the West Satan became God's punishing agent, whereas the East saw him as the Evil One, the Enemy. In the West salvation became about escaping the wrath of God. In the East, it was about defeating sin, death, and the devil. In the West, the incarnation was ultimately about placating God's anger and justice. In the East, it was restoring corrupted human nature, and defeating death. The West encountered a problem understanding how faith and works could merit salvation. However, the East never questioned that salvation was completely unmerited because of God's unselfish and free love, and that we nonetheless needed to struggle ascetically for our own good, not to placate God, so as to overcome the parasitic sin reigning within us, and the demonic temptations attacking us from without. "