Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What’s So Good About Original Sin?

From The New York Times-

The doctrine of original sin has often been held to be intolerably dark, a counsel of despair. It says we are by nature morally flawed, that we are born in error and live in it irremediably, that each of us deserves punishment and will receive it, unless redeemed by God’s arbitrary grace. It insists that we cannot cure ourselves by our own efforts, and it has led some people to make extraordinarily disturbing claims, such as that children who die in infancy could burn in eternal hellfire.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that inherent depravity is a profoundly pessimistic idea, and one with potentially bad effects. A rejection of the idea of original sin might argue that if we believe we can be good and do good by our own efforts, we are likelier to strive to do so. If we believe we are intrinsically evil, it follows, we will cease trying to make ourselves or the world better. Why not, then, think more positively about ourselves and believe in the possibility of human goodness and our potential for improvement right here in this world?

It would take a book or a shelf of them to examine original sin as a theological doctrine, going back to Augustine’s interpretation of Adam and Eve. Even so, it is not clear that the preachers of original sin have managed to explain why a benevolent God would create such profoundly flawed creatures as they believe us to be. And if you don’t believe in God at all, or not in that sort of God, the whole line of argument is moot.

Despite all of that, I would like to entertain the notion that a secularized conception of original sin is plausible, and that believing it might have good effects. In short, perhaps it’s time for a new Puritanism, though with fewer witch trials this time around.

More here-

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