If you have ever heard me preach or teach about this, you know that I rejected this concept a long time ago. Why? Not only is it not in the Bible; it is a made-up doctrine that first began to emerge in the 3rd century. St. Augustine (354 – 430) was the first we know of to use the term. The doctrine, in a nutshell, is this: according to Genesis 2-3, Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, and when God told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they (infants that they were) did the opposite. Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the Serpent; all of them were punished, with Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden. It is interesting that the Serpent was not expelled – at least, it doesn’t say that it was. It’s also interesting to me that God knows they have done something wrong because they know they are naked, and are ashamed and hiding. Sex always gets in the way.
This transgression became the foundation of why Jesus had to appear – to wipe all of humanity of that terrible blot on their souls that was created because the first couple wanted to know stuff. Original Sin didn’t only stain Adam and Eve; it became part of their genetic makeup, something to be passed down from generation to generation. This was passed by sex (once again, getting in the way), so of course, Jesus had to be born in some way that did not include the dirty deed; hence, the Virgin Birth. To make extra sure that there’s no sex involved, Catholic theology came up with the Immaculate Conception: the doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin as well (whether there was sex involved is unclear), and must remain a virgin for her whole life (poor Joseph!)
So, what happens if we deny Original Sin? What reason does God have to appear in human form if not to cleanse us of it? This is where it gets sticky: it has always seemed to me that the explanation for Original Sin makes God seem petty, and I can’t buy into that kind of God. Refusing to accept this doctrine doesn’t mean that I believe people are without sin – far from it! It is obvious that the presence of the Serpent (evil, if you want) in this idyllic place means that Eden was an imperfect creation. Think about it – at the end of every day of the creative process in Genesis 1, God said that the work was “good” or “very good”. Never perfect; just good, or very good. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s word, or work, or law, is perfect. The English translation of the word appears only 16 times in the OT and 23 times in the NT. Perfection is rare; only God is perfect. As far as the reason for Jesus? There were plenty of times in the Bible that God could have wiped us out and started over again – it may be that Jesus came as a last resort before that happened. It seems to have mostly worked out.
Baptism came to be accepted as the only way to remove Original Sin, and this idea is so deeply embedded in Christian theology that there are some denominations that believe an infant who is not baptized will not go to heaven. This is the idea that led me to reject the concept; what kind of loving God would send an innocent baby to someplace other than heaven? It is a cruel and unjust idea and, at its core, the exact opposite of my concept of God. While the Sacrament of Baptism is an essential part of our faith, and it welcomes the baptized into the family of God officially, it is, at least for infants, not a matter of choice. That comes later in life. Baptism is a gift of grace that we don’t earn – it is God’s blessing of life and hope and promise.
I reject Original Sin because it is a made-up way to explain why people have hardship in life. I reject it because it is cruel and non-sensical. I reject it because there is no love in it, only vengeance. You may disagree. I will still love you.
Prayer – Help us to see Your holy love, O God, in each act of creation; in each child born; in each person made in Your image. Amen.
Today’s art is “Original Sin” by Charles Johnston.