The Shadow of Original Sin
Monday, October 25, 2021
Fr. Richard reflects on the negative consequences of Christianity’s emphasis on “original sin.”
The truth of our Original Goodness was sadly complicated when the concept of original sin entered the Christian mind.
This idea was put forth by Augustine in the fifth century but never mentioned in the Bible. We usually taught that human beings were born into “sin” because Adam and Eve “offended God” by eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” As punishment, God cast them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22–23). We typically think of sin as a matter of personal responsibility and culpability, yet original sin wasn’t something we did at all. It was something that was done to us (“passed down from Adam and Eve”). Evil was a social concept much more than an individual act.
In one way, the doctrine of “original sin” was good and helpful in that it taught us not to be surprised at the frailty and woundedness that we all carry. Just as goodness is inherent and shared, so it seems with evil. And this is, in fact, a very merciful teaching. Knowledge of our shared wound ought to help us to be forgiving and compassionate with ourselves and with one another.
I truly believe that Augustine meant the idea of original sin to be a compassionate one. Yet historically, the teaching of original sin started us off on the wrong foot—with a no instead of a yes, with mistrust instead of trust. We have spent centuries trying to solve the “problem” that we’re told is at the heart of our humanity. But when we start with a problem, we tend never to get beyond that very mind-set.
Over thirty years after the publication of Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing, author Danielle Shroyer explores the theme further. She writes:
Sin is not the primary thing that is true about us. Before we are anything else, we are made in God’s image, and we are made to reflect that image in the way we live. Before scripture tells us anything else about ourselves, it tells us we are good. I think that’s because that’s the way God intended it. When we ground ourselves in the fact that God created us good, we are capable of confronting all the other things that are true about us, even the difficult things. Love is tremendously healing. 
To begin climbing out of the hole of original sin, we must start with a positive and generous cosmic vision. Generosity tends to feed on itself. I have never met a truly compassionate or loving human being who did not have a foundational and even deep trust in the inherent goodness of nature and humanity.
The Christian story line must start with a positive, over-arching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. By and large, that is where we still are.
 Danielle Shroyer, Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place (Fortress: 2016), 32.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 61–63.
Story from Our Community:
God’s creation of the cosmos may continue to always unfold toward something better, but the human race might not be part of that due to its choice to live with cunning (like the serpent in the creation story) rather than love as its foundational element. The power of love can transform the world if we truly embrace it and live it. The power lies in love as a verb—to be lived. —Jason O.
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