Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 259
September 1, 1997

Original Sin Revisited



My companion was taken aback, and then took me to task, because I said I believed in original sin. Viewing me as a fairly rational creature, she could not understand my retardation in the matter of sin. Her response to the subject was understandable since she had grow up in an environment in which SIN was used to squeeze and squelch her spirit (and bash her over the head).

The rejection of sin, combined with the search for "feeling good about oneself," has, over the past three decades, significantly changed the intellectual climate within which we understand evil. Having jumped on the pendulum from sin to a belief in the "natural goodness" of humans, we have created a situation which, in my mind, is as intellectually fragile as the former belief in sin.

If we are "basically good," then anything bad that happens to us, or any evil we do, must be the product of some external force--genes, environment, parents, associating with the wrong crowd, television, religion, or government cutbacks. The result is that no one is personally responsible for evil. We have shifted from "We are all guilty," to "Everyone is guilty but me," and our language has shifted so that no longer do we consider people bad but sick.

If we are "basically good," then we do not need to teach morality to children, only clarify the values already present. Why teach morality when the opinion of one good person is as right and valid as that of another good person?

If we are "basically good," then any cure of unhealthy behavior requires not a change of heart or a change of values but a change in external factors: more mothers at home, better condom distribution, longer prison sentences, and more employment. I believe it was Mark Twain who said, "Take a person stealing from a boxcar, give him a college education, and he will steal the railroad."

To embrace human sin (as in the past) or to embrace human goodness (as is presently done) to the exclusion of the other has serious personal and social consequences. I like the perspective of the ancient Hebrews who wrote of an original blessing (or goodness) and an original disobedience (or sin). We humans live with that dual legacy.

--Robert H. Tucker
1 September 1997

© Robert H. Tucker, 1997.
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