The Lie of Original Sin
One of the worst religious oppressions in history has been that of the human spirit by the Christian invention of original sin. Any Christian is well aware of the concept of original sin. The doctrine states that we are all born into a state of depraved sinfulness due to the fall of man as written in the Book of Genesis. According to Christian theology, when our parents brought us home as infants, “They brought home more than just a bundle of joy. They brought home a bundle of sin, hardwired to rebel, a baby bearing the seeds of guilt and shame.” (1)
The Catholic hero “Saint” Augustine (more on him shortly), when referring to infants, wrote, “He could not yet speak, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk.” (2) According to Augustine’s madness, the precious nursing infants of the world are secretly seething with evil jealousy and bitterness. Incredibly, Augustine was serious when he wrote those things.
The degree to which Christians accept the doctrine of origin sin varies between denominations. Catholics are generally the most adamant believers. Christian theology holds that not only were all humans affected by the fall of man, but the entirety of God’s creation. This is almost always the means by which Christian apologists attempt to explain the wealth of pain and suffering in our world.
The typical answer to any question about human misery caused by natural disasters or a crazed serial killer, for example, sounds something like this: “God’s original creation, both man and earth, was perfect. Humans were meant to live in a perfect utopia enjoying perfect communion with God. However, Adam and Eve’s original sin not only left the stain of sin on all humankind, but also effected creation itself. Without original sin, we would be perfect and the world would be perfect.” Without the lie of original sin, Christian fundamentalists quickly run out of answers for the dilapidated condition of our world in light of their supposedly perfect God. No matter, however, many Christians past and present earn a living by making excuses for God so he can still be squeezed into the preconceived Christian notion of a perfect, loving, personal God.
From an early age, Christians are taught that, “We are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. Sin is in the human gene pool like any other physical trait we inherit; nothing else can explain how a perfect God could have created such an imperfect species.” (3)
Christians are expected to believe that the doctrine of original sin bares the truth stamp of approval from God. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The concept of original sin was not the by-product of our horrible, unworthy species, it was another invention of the human mind. Rather than receiving the stamp of approval from God, the doctrine received the stamp of approval from other human beings and a slew of dubious Christian councils. Ironically, the doctrine of original sin does not even exist in Judaism, from which the fable of Adam and Eve was taken. Christian theologians borrowed the Genesis creation myth from the Tanakh, sprinkled it with a new interpretation, and baked it until the doctrine could be approved by the appropriate councils. Original sin also has no standing in Islam. Only Christians are maliciously reassured of their tainted value from the moment of their conception.
While the Jews originally created the fall of man tale in the Book of Genesis, the theological consequences of the fall developed differently between Christianity and Judaism. In Judaism the fall of man set in motion a perpetual system of sacrifice in order to appease God and obtain his forgiveness for being substandard. In Judaism, human beings spend their lives attempting to obtain God’s forgiveness and blessing; however, there is no assumption that one is consigned to a Christian version of hell upon death.
Christianity took the fall of man story one horrible step further. In Christian mythology, the “original sin” of Adam and Eve has been transmitted through the human gene pool with each new life. What’s more, once a person dies, they immediately commute to hell as a result of the stain of original sin on their soul. Enter the Christian caveat – Jesus. Christians view Jesus as the culmination of the Jewish sacrificial system. In Christian lore, the only way for one to escape the flames of hell is to accept Jesus as Lord and savior.
Interestingly, according to Catholic doctrine, the “sacrament” of baptism is necessary to save defenseless infants from hell in the event that a little one dies while still a small child. Baptism washes away the scourge of original sin from children who are too young to choose Jesus on their own.
So who do we have to thank for centuries of self-loathing and unjustified guilt? While the Apostle Paul and others after him began the mania, the chief engineer and champion of the doctrine of original sin was a man named Augustine Aurelius, later known as St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354–430). It was Augustine who fully developed the doctrine into the travesty that degrades human life today. Augustine, perhaps more than any other of the so called “great” theologians of antiquity, was responsible for smothering the human spirit with his outrageous, unfounded and sickening theology.
Augustine was born in North Africa in 354 to a pagan Roman father and a Christian mother. Augustine was raised with mixed religious influence but received a Christian education at the urging of his mother. By the age of seventeen, Augustine was already highly educated and cultured. It was during this time that Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle focused on pleasure and sexuality. For a time, Augustine lived a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity that could be likened to many hormone-driven teenage experiences. It was also around this time that Augustine began a thirteen year relationship with a young woman who would eventually bear his child. (4)
At the age of nineteen, Augustine took an interest in the Manichaean religion. The Manichaean religion combined Christian theology with Gnostic and pagan beliefs. The religion focused on the struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, the perceived struggle between the flesh and spirit. (5) It is believed that Augustine’s exploration of the Manichaean religion may have influenced his beliefs about good and evil, hell, sinning, and disdain for sexual activity. (6)
In 383 Augustine moved from Carthage to Rome in pursuit of a teaching position in Milan. This is when Augustine’s personal journey began to shape his views that would later break the spirit of many Christians.
While in Milan, obliging his mother’s wishes, Augustine began to immerse himself in Christianity. Through the urgings of his mother, Augustine broke off the relationship with his longtime love, whom he referred to as, “The One” and allowed his mother to arrange a marriage between Augustine and a then eleven year old girl. Soon after, however, Augustine broke off his engagement and remained alone. (7)
In 386, Augustine converted to Christianity. Reportedly key to his conversion was the story of Augustine overhearing of group of young children speaking, “take up and read.” Augustine randomly picked up a copy of Paul’s letters to the Romans, and read the following verses: “Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 13-14).
Deeply moved, and believing he had received a sign from God, Augustine began to attend Christian church services presided over by the bishop of the city, Ambrose. Augustine was baptized in 387, and ordained as a priest in 391. In 395 Augustine was elected bishop of Hippo (modern day Annaba in Algeria) and remained Bishop until his death in 430. (8)
It was during his Christian ministry that Augustine fully developed the concept of original sin. Any unbiased investigation into this portion of Augustine’s life in particular, clearly reveals that Augustine projected many of his own personal struggles into his theology. Because of Augustine’s struggles, centuries of Christians have paid a price with undeserved feelings of guilt and shame. Here, we again see human finger prints smudged all over the supposed word of God. It was Augustine’s interpretation of Christian writings and his own theological bias, not the thundering voice of God, which invented the idea of original sin that Christians are so aware of today. And as with the fabrication of the "true" nature of Jesus, (see my article: The Word of Man: The Invention of Christian Doctrine) Augustine’s concept of original sin was later reaffirmed and elaborated on, not by God, but by other human beings such as, Thomas Aquinas. The concept was also reaffirmed by a series of Christian councils, notably the Second Council of Orange, in 529 CE. (9)
One of the primary debates of the Second Council of Orange was to address the concerns of a British monk named Pelagius. Pelagius disagreed with Augustine’s doctrine of origin sin. Augustine proposed that humans are so entirely saturated with sin that, apart from God, we are only able to choose sin. Humans are depraved, sinning automatons incapable of doing good on our own. Pelagius disagreed.
“Pelagius held that human beings were born in a state of innocence without any sinful nature and could, by nurture and discipline, on their own choose God.” (10)
Unfortunately, maintaining the unending trend in Christian development, Pelagius’ views were overruled by a drove of robed old men, Pelagius was excommunicated by the Pope, and Christians were doomed to continue the belief that they are born sinners.
Most Christians I have spoken with have no idea that the doctrine of origin sin was invented by human beings and reaffirmed by majority vote. And just as Joseph Goebbels was the propaganda minister for the Nazi Party and all its horrors, Augustine served as the propaganda minister for the imaginary doctrine of original sin, and was able to amass a significant following; A following that preyed on human emotion and could often overpower the more rational opinions of others.
Retired bishop, John Shelby Spong, noted, “The power of Western religion has always rested on the ability of religious people to manipulate that sense of human inadequacy that expresses itself as guilt.” (11)
Unfortunately, Christian scholars have continued to pour on the fable of original sin throughout the ages as though it actually had divine standing. Continuously telling people that they are selfish, fallen, and unworthy has taken a toll on humanity, while doing wonders for Christian propagandists. Promoting one’s guilt is a tried and true method of keeping the downtrodden, down, and increase their need to seek redemption from the supposed salvation machine - the Christian church. Writing about Augustine, author Gerald McDermott inadvertently cements this notion:
“It is unrealistic and un-Christian to imagine that human nature after the Fall is basically good. It is a shallow conception of humanity to jump from the observation of the many good things people do, to the conclusion that human nature is naturally altruistic. Any deeper look into the human condition will follow lines traced by Augustine to the realization that while God has made us in his image and we have many noble ideals, we do not have the ability to carry them out. Instead we seem to be handicapped by inherent self-obsession. If it were indeed true that we have the ability to perfect ourselves and become righteous, then there was no need for Christ to die for us. The Passion would have been superfluous.” (12)
Mr. McDermott’s last two sentences beautifully expose the Christian scam: without the concept of original sin, the story of Christ’s death for us makes no sense and the church becomes entirely irrelevant. If original sin is just a man made construct and, "there was no need for Christ to die for us," then Christian dogmatists lose their power to intimidate, their power to control peoples' lives. And this, the church fears above all.
Philosopher Paul Copan PH.D., stated, “Until we bring sin back into our vocabulary, we’re not going to take the depths of evil or our moral responsibilities – or God – seriously. We don’t simply need more therapy to resolve our issues in the fallen world. We need to acknowledge our own guilt and humble ourselves in asking for forgiveness. Otherwise, the therapeutic mindset relieves us from making any sort of moral judgment.” (13)
Pure ridiculousness. We live in a natural world, not a fallen world. Not only is original sin merely a contrived campfire story intended to incite fear and shame, it is incredibly counterproductive to human society. Instead of focusing on our responsibility to personal integrity and spiritual growth, here Dr. Copan claims that we must focus on our decreed sinful nature. If we do not admit how terrible we are, we will be unable to make any moral judgments. Shameful theology like this diminishes self determination and claims that we must plead with God for forgiveness for being substandard and unworthy. Ironically, if any of these nonsensical stories were true, God would be in desperate need of human forgiveness for creating us in such a flawed manner, in apparent need of constant correcting. If the Christian story was true and the Christian God truly all-powerful and all-knowing, then he saw all of this coming, yet continued with his plan for human creation. He designed us, he knew our capabilities, he knew our future, he knew exactly what would happen from beginning to end, any yet he slogged forward anyway?
Consider the following analogy: Imagine an automaker created a two-wheel drive pickup truck with a small four cylinder engine. Next, the chief design engineer took one home to use as his personal vehicle. As fall rolled around, the engineer decided it was time to collect some wood for his wood burning stove. One day as it began to snow, the engineer hooked a large, sturdy trailer up to his truck and headed off into the woods. The engineer took a long, winding two-track deep into the woods to his timber cutting spot. The engineer spent the entire afternoon cutting wood with his chainsaw and fully loaded his trailer with a large, heavy load. By the time the engineer was finished, four inches of snow had fallen on the ground. The engineer began his trek out of the woods. The two-wheel drive, four cylinder truck immediately struggled to move the heavy load over the snow covered two-track. Next, the engineer approached a steep grade on the two-track and punched the accelerator hard. The truck gave the engineer all it had, but it simply lacked the power and traction for the task at hand. The truck soon became hopelessly stuck in the mud and snow.
Later, back at work, the engineer spread the story about how his truck had let him down. “The truck was brand new!” he exclaimed, “I can’t believe how it failed me! Because the truck failed me, I will see to it that marketing and development funding for this brand is cut off! I’m going to leave my truck sitting in my barn next to the other junk that I no longer have any use for.” Several of the engineer’s coworkers heard the story and shared the engineer’s disdain for his failed truck. However, a few fellow engineers were taken aback.
“Sir” one of them said, “I don’t understand how you can be upset with your truck? Surely a light weight, two-wheel drive, four cylinder truck could not be expected to perform well under such circumstances. You designed the truck. You knew the truck's capabilities and exactly what to expect from it. It was well within your power to design a larger, four-wheel drive, eight cylinder truck with a heavy duty towing package. Such a truck would have been much more suited to your needs.”
“Non-sense,” the engineer exclaimed. “My truck failed and my friends agree with me. Together, we are going to ensure that this line of truck is discontinued and the public knows of its failure.”
The engineer persuaded a large following of co-workers that the truck was a failure. The few voices of reason that championed the small vehicle were drowned out by the engineer and his group. Ultimately, the group persuaded much of the public that the truck was a disappointment. The truck soon developed a public stigma, was discontinued, and slowly faded into obscurity.
The above scenario mirrors the development of the doctrine of original sin. More powerful and miscalculating voices bullied their way past the voice of reason – and billions of people throughout history have paid the price.
To be sure, our world is one filled with people making detrimental and evil choices; however, propagating the lie that people are born sinners is not an effective method of encouraging people to make better, more responsible choices. All such theology shows, is the ignorance and childish excuse making mentality of past and present Christian theologians.
Let me be very clear. You and I were not born as little bundles of sin. Apart from the ranting of Christian fundamentalists, there is no legitimate reason to think otherwise. One fact that fundamentalists steadfastly ignore is that we genetically inherit personality traits and tendencies from our parents, not from the literalized metaphor “Adam” who never actually existed. Our genes combined with our upbringing and life experiences determine what kind of person we will become and the types of choices we will make. You and I are not degenerate pieces of filth, hard-wired to rebel, unable to choose virtue over vileness. That is what Christianity tells us we are; and it is one of the worst lies propagated in human history that has done immense psychological damage to countless good people.
From birth, the drones of Christian theology have diagnosed us with the congenital, sexually transmitted and terminal disease of sin, for which only they have the cure. It is a racket that would have made Al Capone proud. Yet in reality, you and I are what we make of ourselves; we are the product of our decisions, not an ancient curse. We have the capacity to choose wonderful, virtuous things. You and I are not permeated with a parasitic sin just because a hoard of ancient men said we are. Millions of people choose to live, love and laugh, and bring those virtues into the lives of others every day because that is who they are. Do not ever let anyone make you believe otherwise. To err is to be human and none of us are perfect; however, none of us are born tainted by an imaginary perma-sin.
(1) Meyer, Robin R. Saving Jesus From The Church. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 2010. Page 98.
(2) McDermott, Gerald R. The Great Theologians. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. 2004. 54.
(3) Meyer, pg. 98.
(4 )http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo. “Studying at Carthage.”
(5) Collins, Michael & Price, Matthew A. The Story of Christianity. DK Publishing Inc. New York, NY. 1999. Page 68.
(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism. “Later History.”
(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine. “Rhetoric.”
(8) Collin, Michael & Price, Matthew A. Pg. 69
(9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin. “History of the doctrine.”
(11) Spong, John Shelby. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. 1999. Pg 90.
(12) McDermott, pg. 60
(13) Stroble, Lee. The Case For The Real Jesus. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2007. 253.