The Original Mistake

The original mistake of Christianity, especially in the western church, was to have concocted a doctrine of "Original Sin" out of ancient biblical legends and made it into its primary rationale for the story of Redemption.  This mistake, which like a cancer in the gut, eats away at the credibility of Christianity and has led to all kinds of misunderstandings, ranging from the reason why Jesus died (projecting human psychological needs on God) to the eternal destination of those who are not baptized Christians. It has led not only to franticeven if often heroicmissionary efforts, but also much too often to conquests, wars, persecutions and inquisitions. It has also encouraged a kind of infantile blame-game where, when all else fails, instead of accepting full responsibility for our actions, we end up claiming that "the devil made us do it!" 

How did this situation ever come about?  Many trace it to St. Augustine, who, not knowing Greek very well, mistranslated a famous but rather tricky passage in the Epistle to the Romans (5:12-21) where the Apostle Paul drew rather loosely on the second chapter of Genesis.  Paul's obvious purpose was to extol Jesus as a second beginning for the human racecontrasting the new life brought by Christ to the death which, according to the ancient legend, was introduced by Adam. But as a third-level theological motif (compared to the first level teachings of Jesus in the gospels and the earliestsecond levelsummaries of the "good news") this comparison of Christ to Adam should have been balanced, as it was in the eastern Churches, by other theological elaborations, such as Christ as the "Light of the World", the "Word" and the "Image" of God, or, as found most often in the New Testament, God's "Suffering Servant"  or "Son".

Today our understanding of human origins and the phenomenon of death is entirely different than Paul's.  If there is chaos and disorder in the universe, and a corresponding human tendency to sin, it is not because our earliest human ancestors broke some divine law (although we can be sure they probably broke many of them) but simply because we are, after all, creatures who carry so much of the genetic "baggage" which we inherited from our ancestors who were less than human.  Understood from this point of view, "Redemption" is not so much a matter of "forgiveness"though no doubt we need that as wellbut even more divine empowerment to follow the example of Jesus and complete the process of becoming that "image and likeness of God" that God has intended us all to eventually become.    

Oddly enough, it was the same two whose writings, when read too hastily, may have led us astray who also provide us with the quickest remedy or correction as to what our redemption is all about.  For Paul has also told us, in the same letter where he compares Christ to Adam, that it is not just ourselves who crave immortality, but the whole universe that seeks its fulfillment in God (Romans 8:18-25).  And it was Augustine, who despite his gloomy pessimism that saw all humanity as damaged goods, who also wrote "Our hearts were made for you O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in you."

The moral of the story then, is that we must read on.  No one thing that is written, even by an apostle or a saint, can say all that remains to be said.

R W Kropf  2/24/06                                                    

Mistake.doc  595 words  06-02-24.html