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Original Sin Makes Me Feel Warm and Fuzzy | Catholic Life

Original Sin Makes Me Feel Warm and Fuzzy

Okay, so that title isn’t entirely accurate. But Jenna’s post on sin got me thinking about how the doctrine of original sin is actually a positive thing.

The doctrine of original sin is a happy doctrine for a few reasons. The first is that original sin offers a suggestion of how God can be good even though bad things happen to good people. We can argue all we want about the role of origional sin in deciding the eternal fate of babies who die, but the fact remains that babies die. And there is nothing good about babies dying.

If one believes in original sin, then one can also believe that God did not create a world in which babies die. God created a good world, but Adam and Eve chose evil and thus babies die. Romans 5 explains that “through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned.”

It is not that a baby chooses sin. But all babies feel the impact of original sin, and for some this means death. There is no way around it. There is redemption, but there is also the stinging impact of sin which causes all creation to groan “as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). If one denies the place of sin in causing babies to die, then what is left but to say that it is directly God’s will? It seems to me that it is horribly arrogant to attribute the result of sin to God’s design.

The second benefit of the doctrine of original sin is that it asserts the connectedness of humans in an overly-individualistic society. The influence of liberalism (Enlightenment, Protestant Reformation, what have you) on Christianity has brought many good things, such as a focus on God’s love for every person. But, in some ways, it has lead to an insane idolatry of the individual and no place is left for the crucial role of the community. The doctrine of original sin reminds us that Christianity is not just about “me and God.” We are connected to each other and have to live with the fact that our lives are shaped by the actions others took long before we were born. Ideally, this should serve as a reminder that our actions impact others, and we should live well. It does not really matter whether one prefers to focus on sin as “origional” or “structural” or any other term. What matters is that one remembers that one is not alone and never acts in isolation. The Bible is full of stories of God seeking out individual people and dramatically altering their lives. But these stories involve changing people’s lives so that they can change even more lives, not because God simply likes shaking people up. God didn’t grab Abram and Sarai and say “I want to make your dreams come true, just for the two of you.” Saul wasn’t stopped on the road to Damascus simply for his own salvation. One’s theology of sin is an important aspect of one’s theology of community. And the doctrine of origional sin offers a good starting point for humbly accepting the facts that we did not choose to be who we are, and our choices will impact others.

Lastly there is the great irony that believing in origional sin allows one to have a much more positive view of humanity. If one does not believe in original sin, then it seems that one must attribute all evil acts to sheer malice, greed, etc. But origional sin explains that people do not necessarily choose to be evil. We were stained by sin before we were even born. Remembering this is a tremendous help for me in loving others as weak, rather than despising them as cruel. Sure, we can choose evil, but not all evil is chosen by the person who acts it out. Choice is never truly “free” and no one gets to start with a clean slate.

What is your preferred way of thinking of sin? Do you think that the term itself is problematic? If so, what constructs do you prefer?

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5 Responses to “Original Sin Makes Me Feel Warm and Fuzzy”

  1. Taryn 21. May, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Oh boy Oh boy- sin. I don’t think I can clearly articulate a thought here on this topic. I have read many people’s (far superior) thoughts and I cannot say I have found anything that sounds good to me. I struggle with trying to claim that I understand God. So I am not so much a fan of original sin- mostly because if you take it out to the end of its logic- then we are dealing with predestination. How can some choose good and others evil? Why? I just don’t know.

    I am still trying to figure out my theology that has been chattered by my education, but I love reading your blog and reminding me not to forget what I have learned.

    • Rae 22. May, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts. I did not intend to write that I understood God. But I guess that any discussion of theology has that as its implication, even if one is talking about how God cannot be known. Hmmm. I don’t know. I think that it is worth thinking about/discussing these things, even if we don’t “get anywhere” with them. Even avoiding such topics would say a lot about what I really believe about God, no? In any case, I really do appreciate your thoughts, and hope that I gradually get to know more of your story & views!

  2. Jenna 21. May, 2009 at 6:32 pm #

    I just can’t get on board with the idea that those who commit sin can “blame” it on someone before them. Do you believe that some accountability for what I do lies upon my forefathers?

    • Rae 22. May, 2009 at 5:45 pm #

      I guess it depends upon what you mean by “accountability” and “do” but if I understand you correctly, then my answer is a resounding “yes!” You are only you in the context of your life, and that is shaped by factors settled long before you were born.

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