(An) original sin?

Adam and Eve by Hans Sebald Beham

For some reason the doctrine of original sin is problematic. It (along with the notion that the Godhead defies mathematics, by being both three and one) is one of the most often rejected Christian ideas. It is also apparently one of the drivers of the “Adam and Eve have to be actual people else the whole of Christian faith fails” movement (among both gleeful atheists and raging fundamentalists alike). Two of my NZ-based blogging companions (Otagosh and ξἐνος) have responded to Peter Enns book The Evolution of Adam I have not read the book and so make no claim to be responding to Enns.

But, let’s step back and ask a few questions about “original sin”. If we preface the term by the indefinite article it seems evident to me that there is no such thing as “an original sin”. Granted someone somewhere can claim the “honour” of having been the first laptop thief. Laptop theft was not a possible crime until the moment when luggables evolved into laptops. But was his sin “original”, not a bit of it! Theft of various objects for motives very like his have been committed since before the dawn of history. Indeed many sins can be seen in animals. One of our sheep (one of the bigger and bossier, not the biggest, but perhaps the bossiest) has an addiction to the sweet fruity aroma and taste of “Sheep Nuts”. When we go into the paddock with a box she will butt and heave her sisters out of the way to ensure she gets more. She will even pretend to run off causing a mini-stampede, so that she can then “bravely” be the first to return and gain an extra share. So where on the “Great Chain of Being” does greed “originate”. It is not original to humans, and probably not to mammals…

So, there is no such thing as an “original” sin. On the other hand, sin is inherent in all of us. That sheep is not uniquely sinful while her sisters are  virtuous, and that cute nine day old baby at the wedding on Saturday (though deserving the accolades of “what a GOOD baby”) is actually a selfish monster, just like you and I were, and still are when we forget our learned goodness!

But if there are no original sins, just adaptations of existing ones, equally none of us lives a pure and sinless life until one dreadful day we commit our first sin, we are inclined to sin from the start. Nothing is more selfish than a baby!

So does this mean that Paul’s whole theological edifice comes tumbling down? By no means, we are sinful (by nature inclined to sin and in fact sinners)1 we need to be freed from the power of this, and from its consequences.

  1. Just like “Adam” whether he was an actual person or a personification of human origins – and incidentally while we are on the subject does the fact that Paul does not here mention Eve mean that she is not also responsible for our sinful gene, is it somehow attached to the Y chromosome. In that case are all women sinless as Eve? ;) []

4 comments on “(An) original sin?

  1. Ray Vincent

    I agree. ‘Universal sin’ or ‘unavoidable sin’ are better terms. The trouble is many new-agers and extreme liberals today don’t like the word ‘sin’ at all. It seems to have a bad press. But whatever word we use it should be pretty obvious to anybody that we all start off being selfish, greedy, prejudiced etc., and that however perfect a system may be, human beings will mess it up. Why are people so reluctant to call this ‘sin’?

  2. rey

    If you define sin in the idiotic Christian way where everything is a sin then you can make a baby a sinner. Being selfish is a sin? Well then babies are sinners. But where the hell does the Law saw being selfish is a sin? Thus Christianity falls apart (as always) when someone who interprets the Law properly comes up against it. Christianity is nothing more or less than Paul’s messed up misinterpretation of the Law. Nowhere does the Law say selfishness is sin; nowhere does the Law say if you commit one little sin God condemns you to burning fiery torment for all eternity; nowhere does the Law say if you commit a non-mortal sin you can’t just repent and instantly be forgiven (in fact it implies that very thing!)! By non-mortal sin, obviously I mean one which the Law does not impose a death penalty on. For again, nowhere does the Law say that the wages of every sin is death! Paul might have misinterpreted it that way, but the Law didn’t say it. You didn’t get put to death for lying under the Law, just for murder, adultery, beastiality, homosexuality, idolatry, and yet not for incest, and pre-marital sex between singles would only get you a fine from the chick’s dad. So Christianity falls apart because its built on horrible misinterpretation of the Law.

  3. rey

    Sin in Judaic thinking is more akin to the word ‘crime’ whereas in Christian thinking its a magical entity that controls you. This is the root of the problem. The Christian thinking is stupid and must be destroyed.

  4. tim

    Comments like “Christian thinking is stupid and must be destroyed” don’t encourage me to think it is worth bothering to reply to your comments. But despite that I will:

    Thus Christianity falls apart (as always) when someone who interprets the Law properly comes up against it. Christianity is nothing more or less than Paul’s messed up misinterpretation of the Law

    What you understand by Christianity does not sound like something I recognise, perhaps you have been listening to too many poorly educated American Fundamentalists?

    Nowhere does the Law say selfishness is sin; nowhere does the Law say if you commit one little sin God condemns you to burning fiery torment for all eternity;

    As to the first I suspect the great Rabbis may disagree with you, on the second you are quite right nowhere in either Testament included in the Christian Bible is this strange claim made. Again I suspect you have some strange friends!