Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 5, 2020

Original Sin

“How important is original sin to your understanding of faith?” That was a question for our book discussion today.  The context was Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Holy Envy,” and the question was from a HarperOne “Small Group Guide.”

I don’t believe in the Calvinist concept of original sin, tied as it is with what David Bentley Hart calls the “infernalist” version of Christianity. But neither do I believe that we can live good lives – however you define a “good life,” whether according to the 10 Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or Dungeons & Dragons alignment categories – without grace.

To me, “original sin” is a shorthand way of describing the whole complex of past choices and circumstances and mistakes and tragedies that limit our freedom to choose the good.

It might be our own sin, that has irreparably broken a relationship with someone who once loved us. Or it might be the sin of our fathers, maybe in abusing one of our parents. Or it might be the sin of a complete stranger, driving while drunk and killing another person who, if they lived, would have provided love and protection.

Or it might be structural sin: the structures of racism that taught us to not care about people defined as “the other,” or that stole from our people and plunged us into poverty. The economic structures that turn our ethically neutral desires for heat and transportation into destruction for our planet.

These sources of sin are “original” in that they predate and exist outside of any one human being. They limit our choices, and limit our vision and our ability to respond with love. I cannot work my way out of them to salvation, but need to both look for and accept gifts of grace.

spiral green plants

Photo by Steven Hylands on


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