So I’m still reading this book Radical by David Platt and I’m preparing to review it and possibly look deeper into some of the questions it raises. I am fascinated by this iteration of American evangelical Christianity. I was not raised in it and I have an outsiders view of it, so reading what someone from inside this belief system says and how he wants to change it is instructive for me and actually quite enjoyable. But right now I have a serious question that has been niggling at me all day: what’s the deal with Original Sin?
Okay, so going back to my catholic roots, what I remember from catechism and church school is that Original Sin is the sinful nature of man passed down through the generations because of Adam, the first man. As the BBC page on it explains, “Original sin is an Augustine Christian doctrine that says that everyone is born sinful. This means that they are born with a built-in urge to do bad things and to disobey God.” The only way to get rid of Original Sin is baptism, something that both catholic and evangelical churches do.
Here’s my question: is this all a con?
Here’s my thinking: in the religious sphere, everyone makes gains by claiming that they are the only ones who are right and making people throw their lot in with them. Original Sin is the line they sell to make people believe that they need what that church is selling: salvation. Without Original Sin, there is less reason to follow any particular religion or quite possibly any religion at all. Thus, Christians of all stripes have a vested interest in this belief because it in many respects justifies their proselytizing.
Now I’m not just claiming this out of hand. Looking back at the history of the concept of Original Sin shows that there is some basis for this thinking. St. Augustine, who was a fan of Platonic philosophy, elucidated this doctrine in depth for the first time. He borrowed it from 2nd century church fathers who created the doctrine through reinterpretations of Genesis, not taking up any previous interpretations that were considered received wisdom. Through Augustine’s efforts, the concept of Original Sin became church doctrine. This is the history taken from a few sources and condensed to save me space (so look here and here to read my sources).
So the idea of Original Sin did not come from Jewish tradition, but from Augustine. This means that the whole shtick of man being born with the taint of Adam’s transgression has a definite start date that does not coincide with Early Church (meaning the church of the Apostles, specifically) teaching. More importantly, this doctrine has been used to justify the continual proselytizing of non-Christian peoples who neither asked for it or want it when they hear it. Original Sin, then, is one of the primary Christian beliefs that justifies Christian actions.
Take for instance, this passage in Radical, which was one of the things that made me think about this subject:
Look especially at the hypothetical question: “What happens to the innocent guy in the middle of Africa who dies without ever hearing the gospel?” (This is how most people word this question.)
The reality is, the innocent guy in Africa will go to heaven because if he is innocent, then he has no need for a Savior to save him from his sin. As a result, he doesn’t need the goespel. But there is a significant problem here.
The innocent guy doesn’t exist… in Africa or anywhere else.
And why not? Original sin. Platt in his book uses Romans chapter 3 to justify this and that chapter has been used to justify Original Sin as well. But look at the verse he uses (which I quote from his text):
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Nowhere in this verse does it say this is because of the sin of Adam. Nowhere are these people held guilty for the sins of someone else. Only their own actions condemn them.
Why does this mean there is Original Sin, then? Well, it doesn’t look like it does. Unless someone comes along and interprets it that way and gets their interpretation made into church doctrine (*cough* Augustine *cough*).
And why do we even need the idea of Original Sin anyway? If we functioned just fine without it before Augustine, was it really necessary? Unless only by saying that there are no good people outside of Christianity was a really good selling point, which it looks like it is.
So. Original Sin – con or not? Kinda sounds like a con to me. What do you think?