Original sin. What is it good for?

Blaming you, that’s what. It’s your fault!

I’m fast coming around to the view that the Socialist Salvation Army expresses like this.

our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.

This is the doctrine of original sin. It was Adam (and Eve) who committed the orginal sin, but you have inherited that sin. You were born bad. Free will is commonly believed to be a precondition of moral agency and moral responsibility, but it’s not. Just as well, since we don’t have free will!

Contrary to popular opinion, moral responsibility is not consequent upon our actions (whether freely chosen or otherwise). Moral responsibility is not gotten through acts of commission or omission. In fact, it’s a matter of give and take. You are morally responsible if you are justly held accountable by other people (including God) or if you rightly take responsibility yourself for your own (or other people’s) actions.

The view I have just expressed is not a popular one. It gets intransigent atheists, in particular, in a real lather. Here‘s Ayn Rand.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.

A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man’s nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

The doctrine of original sin squares the existence of morality with the non-existence of free will.

The doctrine of original sin is Biblically sound, whereas the doctrine of free will is not (notwithstanding that it’s a very popular theodicy).

Surely I was sinful at birth,
        sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (NIV)


12 thoughts on “Original sin. What is it good for?”

  1. It’s funny I’d not really noticed the doctrine of original sin until objectivists brought it to my attention.

    Having sinned of my own free will 😉 original sin seems irrelevant.

    Everyone I’ve encountered is also guilty by choice.

    It seems like “original sin” either a false doctrine or an irrelevant truth?

  2. Richard,

    It is true that as an Objectivist that I find what you propose to be deplorable and false.

    But one aside here, you infer that Ayn Rand was “Christ-hating”. I submit that you are misinformed at best and dishonest at worst in laying that charge against her.

    Here is what she wrote about Jesus:

    “Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism — the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means — one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one’s soul — (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one’s soul?) — Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one’s soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one’s soul to the souls of others.

    This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved.”

    (from a letter to Sylvia Austin dated July 9, 1946, in Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 287)

    Please provide a quote to substantiate your claim that Miss Rand was “Christ-hating”.

  3. Terry, you are right that Rand didn’t hate on Christ in particular. But she was pretty down on religion (mysticism) and Christianity (altruism) in general.

    I changed ‘Christ-hating’ to ‘intransigent’.

  4. Reed: good point.

    Terry: Dude! Spot on!

    Richard: I submit to you that mysticism is a philosophical shortcut — and in this day and age, when we can look at the plumbing of the universe in all of its mind-blowing beauty, it is obsolete. Most of even the craziest metaphysical claims of the Bible can now be explained by scientific theory/fact. Why resort to mysticism? Occam’s Razor, sir.

  5. Come on Richard!
    You really expect this to undermine free will as a biblical doctrine?
    I shake my head.

    Why would God Say ‘thou shalt not….’ if he did not believe it was possible for people to freely choose not to steel, not to kill, not to commit adultery, etc. That’s ridiculous!
    The doctrine of original sin and the resultant ‘Sin nature’ of humanity does not negate free will any more than being bound by the Law of Gravity negates free will!
    Yes there are ‘forces’ which we must contend with, yet we still can make real free will choices…. for EG I may think someone’s wife is Hot… and this urge may indeed spring from my biology as a Male, yet I am not compelled to Rape her or seduce her because I have a free will mind and ethical choices to conside.Ie I have real options. Thus I must reason that firstly the bible tells me to suppress these urges, and not be led about by my Dick. The mind ought to rule the body, not the body rule the mind. That she is some one elses wife ought to make contemplate such ethical considerations as ‘Would I like it if someone raped or tried to saduce my wife? Thus the freewill principle that I ought to ‘do unto others as I would have them do unto me’ makes me choose between being Good or evil. And would you simply forgive your wife and best friend if caught them in the sack… because you believe they had no free will in this matter? Get Real!
    It is painful for me to witness your Hell bent crusade to turn humanity into a computer.
    It really warps your critical faculties my friend!
    Dead horse…. Flog no more!
    The sin nature in Humanity is a desire to live free of God’s rules.
    It is a desire to fulfill your own bodily lusts irrespective of ethical concerns.
    It puts the temporal pleasures ahead of moral accountiblity.
    Yet we have a choice in all of this.
    We will be judged by God for our own sinful free will choices, not because of any ‘automatic’ actions.
    The Doctrine of Original sin is important because it explains why we live in a ‘Paradice lost’… why we are sparated from God… The mortality of Mankind etc, etc. How evil came into the world.

    Now I am no schooled philosopher yet I have always wondered if the existance of Satan is logically provible like this…. 1. There are liars in the universe. 2.The Universe is temporal. 3 Therefore someone must have been the first/ father of lies.
    “We call this first liar Satan”.

  6. Richard,

    Ayn Rand was justifiably intransigent about condemning mysticism and altruism. If she hadn’t of been, she would have had to entertain contradictions. Identifying truth does not allow for that.

    You say that you accept “the existence of morality”. I am interested to know why you do. The truthfulness of your claims (that free-will does not exist and Original Sin does) rests on the validity of your answer.

    “The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?” [Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 13]

  7. St Paul talks about sin being in our flesh, but that we can ‘walk in the spirit’ we will not fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’.
    *The flesh is corrupted*
    It seeks to enslave us to it’s lusts.
    “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
    Yet no temptation is beyond our freewill minds to resist.
    “God is faithful and will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it”

    The ‘Born again’ Christian still lives within his corrupt flesh and must live by grace, not the Law. Yet he is now ‘Two distinct beings’
    The old man created in the image of sinful Adam, and the New Man created in the image of Christ. And thus there is a spiritual battle going on inside each believer between our two natures…. And it is up to us to choose which will dominate… where our real values lie.
    The Christian life is a walk…. A pilgrimage in which we ought to become more Godly, and less slaves of our flesh… yet the reality is we take steps forward and backwards and it depends on whether we have faith and overcome our ‘old man’ and truly become more ‘Christ like’, or degenerate further into slavery to sin.
    All this shows the interplay between our Lusts and our ideals, our Faith, and our fickleness. Yet at no point are we removed from culpability.
    We will always reap what we sow… Sin leads to certain death.

  8. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
    Francis Bacon. English Lawyer and Philosopher. 1561-1626


    It is interesting to me Terry that all the greatest thinkers From Greece, to the Enlightenment/ age of reason, to the fathers of the various branches of Science all conclude that belief in God and the after life is the most rational postion… not atheism!
    Socrates, Plato, Aristottle, Voltaire, Locke, Jefferson, Paine, John Adams, Newton, Bacon, Mendel, Von Linaeus, Pasteur,etc, etc all believed in God because of Reason and science!
    Thus it is the verdict of Reason that belief in Atheism is to divorce your mind from reality.

  9. Original sin is an innovation of Augustine’s, because he misinterpreted a passage in the Vulgate and couldn’t read Greek. Many heresies are built on this one little doctrine.

    The NIV version of Psalm 50 (51) is pretty lousy. The KJV (and the LXX) has it as “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The translators have deliberately tried to distort the verse, which is why I tend to agree with Tim (up to a point) regarding the strength of the KJV versus other translations.

  10. Having sinned of my own free will original sin seems irrelevant.

    But, Reed.

    You can only truly have free will if your will is determined by your consciousness.
    If your will is determined by your consciousness then your will is not truly free.

    So how did you do it?! 😉

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