Grad-school Original Sin

My hostility to the doctrine of Original Sin is no secret; it’s degrading and harmful nonsense, and I wish that odious teaching could be driven right off the earth.

What must be understood here is that Original Sin, in Christian theology, is not an allegorical or metaphorical way of saying we should not be so sure of ourselves, we should be less judgmental, we should be kinder, et cetera, et cetera. Christianity claims, rather, that it is an actual, objective fact of reality that we are all born guilty and deserving eternal punishment — to be born human is to be born foul, unfit to exist, something putrid whose mere existence is an offense.

Your unfitness to exist is why you need “salvation.” I do not exaggerate: church amongst Southern Baptists, for instance, is little more than a weekly berating.

Now comes a philosopher to propose a secular version of Original Sin.

The doctrine of original sin — in religious or secular versions — is an expression of humility, an expression of a resolution to face our own imperfections. In undertaking any such act there is risk. To allow the self-scrutiny required in this act to turn to self-loathing would be debilitating. But a secularized doctrine of original sin, a chastened self-regard, doesn’t entail consigning ourselves to the flames. There is much to affirm in our damaged selves and in our damaged lives, even a sort of dignity and beauty we share in our imperfect awareness of our own imperfection, and our halting attempts to face it, and ourselves.

I applaud the spirit of the idea, but … No. Teach self-awareness, including one’s limits and the presence of sometimes-subterranean motives, using other language and show “Original Sin” the contempt it deserves rather than trying to soften it with a secular version.

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