The Trouble with “Original Sin”

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the many things a person raised in Christianity–especially Catholicism–may accept without a second thought is the concept of original sin. You likely know what that is: the sin of Adam and Eve, when they allegedly disobeyed God and got thrown out of the garden of Eden. Supposedly, they ate some fruit God said not to eat; it allowed them to know right from wrong, and suddenly they couldn’t live in the garden anymore. That was their punishment. That, and also every human being from that point on would be considered a sinner, stained with the sin of the first humans, until he or she is baptized. If you’re curious about the way Catholics describe the concept, you can read about it here. (They call original sin a “contracted sin,” which makes it sound like an STI.)

Here are a few major problems with Original Sin:

1) It involves punishing people for the mistakes of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents.

In any other context, this would not be considered OK. There have been some pretty awful people in this world, but it’s generally understood that the only person who can be held accountable for a crime is the person who committed it, not someone who happened to be born long after it occurred with some relation to the criminal. If Hitler were known to have children, or grandchildren, or great grandchildren, they would not be responsible for what he did. They would only be responsible for their own behavior. This is how civilized society works.

2) It means that babies–who probably have never done anything worse than kick their mothers in utero at this point–are born with sin.

They’re too young to even understand the concept of sin, so calling them sinners makes no sense, especially since even Catholicism also considers 7-years-old, not birth, the point at which a child is responsible for his or her behavior. (This is called the “age of reason.”) Except, of course, their great-great-great etc. ancestor’s behavior. That’s the baby’s fault.

3) The Adam and Eve Story is so ridiculous that many Christians, Catholics included, do not take it literally.

I mean, it has magic trees, a talking snake, and a human being being made out of another human’s rib (seriously, that’s not enough material.) It’s not exactly the most plausible story in the Bible.

My dad, who is one of the most devout Catholics I’ve ever met, once told me that Adam and Eve isn’t necessarily the literal story of creation as it happened, but rather something more like a parable that’s meant to teach a lesson.

(What lesson? That knowledge of good and evil is a bad thing? That God goes a little overboard with his punishments?)

My religious education (CCD) teacher told me something similar, and another Catholic-raised atheist, actress Julia Sweeny, was taught to think of Adam and Eve as “a poem on creation.” (I think I’ve linked to it before, but it’s so good it’s worth linking to again. You can check out her deconversion story here.)

Which begs the question, how could it not be a literal story if it results in religious doctrine? Either it provides a valid explanation for the doctrine because it’s true, or it doesn’t and it’s not. This is not a pick-two situation.

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy