Susannah (susannah) wrote in christianity,
Susannah
susannah
christianity

Critique of 'Original Sin' and Assertion of 'Original Beauty'

I think it's commonsense that we're all selfish (and some people do horrific things) but this selfishness is probably part of our evolutionary survival mechanism (although the future evolution of our species probably depends just as much on the skills and desire to co-operate).

I also think there is a common spiritual principle across many faiths of: death to selfishness and opening up (in different situations) to love.

What I'm less convinced of is Paul and the Early Church's very 'mechanical' "package" of a kind of original sin based on the sins of Adam and Eve.

Given that Adam and Eve almost certainly didn't exist (certainly not as ancestorless, perfect human beings in a Garden of Eden), it seems to me that for Paul to build his theological "construction" on these non-existent personalities and non-existent events, and then create some universal consequence for all humanity because of their non-existent actions, is simply a reflection of Paul's over-intense religiosity and desperate need to explain and control.

While I think it is important to recognise and acknowledge the terrible consequences of human selfishness, I don't think we are obliged to 'buy into' Paul's personal "package".

I think our need for salvation is a reflection of our need for Godde, not because we are all fundamentally sick, evil, worthless.

And at the same time as I prefer to re-define Paul's artificial "construction" in more rational terms, I also argue that we should play up our true origins, created as children of Godde in the image of Godde, and encourage one another to reclaim again and again our original beauty, our original goodness, our original love.

I personally think this whole approach is more balanced than Paul's intense mechanism and desire to control ideas.

For my full critique of ‘original sin’ you can click here...

LJ user oblyvia recently asked some interesting questions about Original Sin. She questioned whether we are really born bad and worthless and remain that way if we do not become christians. And to those who are christians, she asked: "Do you feel your life was worthless and meaningless before you became a christian?" She also asked about the idea that we are condemned to sin because of the sin of Adam and Eve. I responded a couple of days ago in these words:

I think your question is a serious one and deserves respect and careful answering, particularly because over the centuries the church has quite often put across a life-denying condemnatory view of our humanity, rather than a life-affirming emphasis. Of course, the fundamental message of the gospel IS life-affirming, but if a concept of original sin is overplayed then it may colour a person’s self-worth and the worth of others (particularly non-christians).

You wrote: I do not feel that my life cannot be rich and good and charitable without being a Christian.

Of course it can. I know many *lovely* non-christians. I know many non-christians who enrich the lives of others, live sacrificially for family or sick relatives, offer lives of service at work. I know lots of non-christians who do good things. I know non-christians who are generous, who give to charity because of the impulse in their hearts – and there are also many non-christians who work for charities, often in dangerous situations out of the decency of their humanity.

So the technical concept of “original sin” (developed as an early christian idea by linking it to Adam and Eve) is, to an extent, a “system” or “mechanism”. It certainly needs to be considered carefully.

The actual principle of ‘dying to your selfishness’ and finding a better life by ‘opening your heart to love’ is a well-recognised spiritual principle and experience. You don’t need to be a christian to explore that kind of spirituality, and it’s one of the reasons I feel we have a lot to share with people of other faiths or lack of defined faith, from whom we can learn and benefit. Because the spiritual principle is valid outside of faith definitions.

So I agree with your comment above, both because non-christians may be very loving and enriching, and because the NT ‘original sin because of Adam and Eve’ “system” is one expression of an underlying spiritual principle that others explore in their own way (without calling up possibly non-existent or mythological personages).

Having said all that, and to maintain balance and the way I personally believe, I will agree that at the deepest spiritual level I embrace in a christian context the fact that this spiritual principle ultimately means that none of us can raise ourselves from death, and each of us (I believe) need and desire the wholeness that comes from relationship with Godde, wholeness of Godde, and life of Godde – NOT to eradicate the very lovely people we essentially are, mind you, but to fulfil them.

So, if you like, I’m saying you might (if you chose) embrace this spiritual principle of ‘death to selfishness’ outside of christian tradition, or you might (as I choose to do) embrace this principle in the context of Jesus Christ as an expression of Godde’s total emptying and sacrifice, *because* we are originally lovely and worth it. (That, I believe, is Godde’s perception, regardless of mine.)

You also wrote: Do you feel your life was meaningless before you came to know Christ?

No I definitely don’t. I was, and am, a mixture of good and bad, the selfish and the loving, often a shambles, sometimes neglectful, but aware of so much beauty in many people. Before I was a christian I sensed and loved the numinous Godde of the mountains, the mysterious Godde of the crowded city, the kindly presence of a holy one who seemed to be there in so many life situations. Before I was a christian I found meaning in other people, their love, their excitement, their vibrancy, their care, their joy.

In response to this second quote of yours, I believe that our lives are not made meaningful because we have faith (though of course this may also be hugely meaningful to many): life is made meaningful by the existence of Godde, regardless of whether we believe or not.

"I am not a christian." OK. Life is still meaningful because Godde makes it so.

"I am a christian." OK. Life is still meaningful because Godde makes it so.

In either case, I believe life has meaning.

And if life has meaning, and value, and loveliness, and goodness and so much else – then it has it, whether we have particular insights or not.

Godde is hugely benevolent. Godde does not block out all meaning just because we’re not christians. An example: I’m writing this in a period of lucidity in the midst of a deep fever. Last night I had to change my bedthings five times because of my temperature. This has gone on for days because of a pretty painful infection. (No pity needed! People are dying, this is just a 10-day event.) But my colleagues at work have been amazing. I got a phone-call from one, not a professing christian, who has spent *hours* selflessly preparing lessons for me, marking the work, and wanting me to be reassured that I needn’t worry about my pupils (which I do). Now that wasn’t original sin! That was simple human decency, selflessness, which I find dignifying.

His life has great meaning, christian or not.

And therefore, and because of the evidence of millions of other non-christians all over the world who show selfless love and decency, I am willing to challenge the church’s sweeping sin-centred view of humanity which follows from the concept of “original sin”.

Point number one: I am not denying the existence of sin – or ‘selfishness’. Every person from the time they are born has the capacity for selfishness and selfish decisions. That’s obvious. It’s not the whole of the person, though. They are not just “sinful”. There’s far more to humanity than that... but we’ll come back to the positive later.

Point number two: the term “original”. If I recognize we sin and can be selfish, what about the other half of the term... “original”.

This word seems to resonate in christian theology and teaching with two ideas. Firstly, the idea that there was an historic “original sin” from which all other sin has come about.

This is the “system” or “mechanism” I have talked about. A system that Paul, that former Pharisee, developed to try to create a “structure” to the message of sin and salvation.

It is the idea that there was one catastrophic first or “original” sin, and that the punishment for this was that from then on, all human beings would be essentially sinful from conception, and would face death and punishment by Godde. Because of this “original” sin committed by someone else, all humanity becomes a condemned species and in Pauline terms that verdict actually means everlasting torment in Hell. Very nasty. Very violent. A pretty rough call.

Now I refer to this as a “system” – a kind of manifesto if you like – because of course to our reasonable and honest minds today, there was never a perfect state where humans never died. There was never a first Adam and a first Eve made from his rib, two “original” humans who had no ancestors.

Therefore Paul’s underlying premiss for what became known as “original sin” was based on error or a false assumption... based on a mythology. The basis for his claim that all humanity is sinful and condemned was a non-existent “original” couple and non-existent events.

That doesn’t mean his “system” can’t be considered for some inner intellectual meaning. But it is just a “system”. It is his way of trying to create a manifesto, to make sense of things in what you might call a new christian “package”. In fact, “package” sums up the concept of “original sin” pretty well. Paul, the former Pharisee, needs to create a new “package” to explain how his new faith builds on his earlier faith.

But it is ‘constructed’.

It is Paul developing a package.

Now I have already called into question the way Paul bases his premiss on non-existent historical events (which, however, Paul probably and mistakenly believed to be historic). We are not, as modern christians or modern non-christians obliged to embrace Paul’s erroneous view of history and perpetuate it. Indeed, the Godde of all truth would hope and expect that we would be open to what science can show us, including the fact that our “origins” do not start with a paradisical Garden of Eden and two human beings created outside of evolution who need never die. This is the never-never land of mythology. Mythology can have meaning but Paul cites our wholly sinful state as the consequence not of myth but of what he mistakenly believed were actual catastrophic historical events. And then his ‘need to control’... his ‘need to make sense’... grasps this fallacy and packages it inside a theology that just runs away with itself from that point onwards.

So much for the “package” based on an “original” Adam and Eve and an “original” sin.

Now what about the term “original” in the other, more immediate, implication of the word? The idea that from the moment we are conceived, we are creatures condemned and racked by sin. The idea that humanity is basically ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’. The idea that all people who don’t become christians are basically thrown on the rubbish heap of Hell, the burning rubbish heap outside the holy city?

This is Paul’s take on humanity.

It’s an incredibly dark picture of the actual world we know, where there is indeed sin and selfishness and horror... but where there is also so much more... so much goodness and kindness and light and family love and neighbourly helpfulness and self-sacrifice and music and joy and weddings and hope and happiness and laughter and good times and... basically... so much that is not “sinful through and through”.

To the non-christian the concept of original sin is hard to accept, because to be honest it probably shouldn’t be accepted – at least not in its abysmal gloom and condemnation. Yes, we need realism about selfishness. But there is also a far more important concept which should fire up the christian message, and attract people instead of revolting them.

There needs, in short, to be far more balance than Paul’s simplistic religious “package”, constructed by an intense religious man, offered as a way of portraying and understanding humanity.

Because:

The origins of humanity are not the non-existent Adam and Eve. The origins of humanity are Godde.

To understand what we are originally like, what we are essentially like, we need to underline the fact that we are made in the image of Godde.

That is our origins. That is what we are like.

And yes, our selfishness can lead us away from those origins. And yes, we may sometimes lose sight of those origins, but those origins are always there, awaiting reclamation day by day. And finding fulfillment in the person of Jesus and our eternal destiny and existence.

So instead of obsessing negatively on “original sin” – a package put together which is only part of a truth and also based on mistaken historicity...

We should preach:

ORIGINAL BEAUTY!!! Yes, because that is actually what every single human being is born with. Made in the image of Godde, we are born with original beauty, original goodness, original love... and we see this in so many people, again and again... they can’t help themselves... its in the template.

We are made in the template of Godde. Godde has put original beauty and loveliness within our inner being.

Yes we will stumble and mess up and make mistakes – selfish mistakes. But... day by day, Godde sees how lovely we fundamentally are... and Godde longs for us to reclaim, again and again, our original beauty, our likeness to Godde.

How much more positive and encouraging a message this is – set realistically side by side with realistic confrontation of our selfishness – than the “package” of original sin and wholly corrupt humanity and condemnation.

The Christian message is that Godde sees how lovely we are... and longs... just longs to help and encourage us to lay hold of the original good within us... to value ourselves... to reach for our best... and he sent Jesus Christ to help us embrace our destiny and to help us claim the fullness of who we originally are and of who we will become. And that fullness waits each day when we awake.

The Christian message is that Jesus Christ showed us our own humanity. The original beauty of a humanity made in the image of Godde. Not worthless at all. But so beautiful, so precious, so loved and valued, that Godde wanted to make a total commitment – to the point of outpoured blood and no turning back – to say: I will help you. I will show you the better way. I will value you with my life. I will show you that all the things that separate you from me, I can deal with, and I can replace with grace. You can come to me, with all your mistakes and sins, and I can deal with them. I can forgive them. Why? Because you are originally beautiful. You are originally from heaven. I made you in my image. You are my own children. You originate from everything that is beautiful and loving and good... and you are returning there. Live up to that calling. Lay claim to who you really are. Come to your senses. And don’t worry that you mess up and stumble again and again. I am with you. Each time, just recall your true best selves, reclaim your original beauty. Let me be with you. Let us draw close. Open your heart and let me help you, let me help you to be who you really are.

So…

My friends, I reject the cringing view of humanity that suggests “there is no health in us”. I’m realistic about the appalling damage that selfishness can do, both to others and ourselves.

But our humanity is so much more. Anyone with honesty and common-sense (like the OP) can see it is. Paul’s isolation of the worst in human nature fails to give realistic acknowledgement of all the decency that exists both in the christian and the non-christian world.

We need to dispel the implicit gloom and negativity toward humanity – an attitude that de-values what Godde has made and... most disturbingly... de-values non-christians as condemned, cringing, doomed, to be devoured...

And we need to proclaim like a banner the joyful goodness in all peoples and all faiths. We need a christian message which says, christian or non-christian, we believe you have inner beauty, we believe in you, we believe you have eternal value, we believe Godde will always love you and will ultimately fulfil you.

We need this positive message so much.

As I said at the beginning, the concept of “original sin” is problematical, particularly because it has often been used in isolation as a definition of what humanity is like. But actually that was just the “package” of that old religious fanatic, Paul (developed further by the church of course).

In reality, there is a deeper “origin” to our nature... our creation in the image, in the template, of Godde... which means, contrary to the church’s frequent teaching and hellfire scare-mongering... that we are originally good... originally lovely... originally beautiful.

Even the worst sinner.

What a revolutionary message! To look in the eyes of someone who feels outcast, or hardened, or sinful, or rejected, and to say: “You are beautiful!”.

That was what Jesus came to do.

He was realistic about selfishness. He was not a soft touch on crime. But he saw deep in each person’s eyes... to their origins... to their beauty.

When we really start viewing humanity in this way, as so beautiful and precious, perhaps we will evolve... perhaps there is still time yet, to reclaim whole families this way, whole communities, whole nations?

By the power of Godde’s Spirit – Godde’s holy, life-bringing Spirit – people can come to their senses, can reclaim the best about themselves, can reclaim the origins that they were born with before anyone damaged them or hurt them or they damaged themselves.

For so long we have talked about original sin. My theology is very cautious about the concept of 'Original Sin'. Personally, I believe we need to reclaim the concept of Original Beauty and Love, and then the concept of sin gets placed within this broader concept. Each of us is made in the image of Godde, born of Godde, indwelt by Godde - and however many times we fail, we should encourage one another to reclaim that original beauty, that original love. For then we are being true. I’ll still talk earnestly about the damage wreaked by sin and selfishness. But it’s time we talked some more about Original Beauty, Original Goodness, Original Love.

And that exists at the heart of all humanity, not just in christians. Christianity must stop being a “tribal” religion, with the rejects condemned forever. Christianity really does need to evolve. Christianity, to a christian, is such an obvious lovely way to Godde. But we should not suppose, therefore, that Godde did not make everyone else as well. We are all Godde-bearers whether we know it or not. Life is that sacred.

Godde is so kind. Godde longs for us to draw close, to seek, to trust. Godde longs for us, each one of us on this planet, to dare to reclaim the original best within us... to reclaim our humanity and, in doing so, to discover the divinity within.
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