We have turned to Alan Jacobs, Original Sin, and his essay-like approach to original sin. I want to begin today with a question:
If we bracket the notion of original sin — something on the order of inheriting not only bad habits but a nature that cannot not sin, what explanation is there for the sheer reality that everyone sins, everyone does something wrong, everyone at sometime acted selfishly or pridefully when that person knew it was wrong and, if truth be told, didn’t want to act selfishly or pridefully? If we bracket the explanation that we inherit the ability and inclination and inevitability of doing such, how can we explain the presence of sin in everyone? Give this some thought because it is profitable for our theology to think about theology from the bottom up.
How do we explain, Jacobs asks, that “we are remarkably prone to doing bad things — and, more disturbingly, things we acknowledge to be wrong” (xv).
Chp 1 is the summary of six stories:
1. Little Ajax, after his famous battle at Troy, returned to his hometown Locris and boasted of his own powers to save himself from a storm at sea — and the gods struck him dead — and now the wrath of Athena was after Locris. So, to expiate the pride of little Ajax, for centuries they sent two young women to Troy where they were dedicated to the priests; if Trojans spotted them prior to getting to the priests, they could kill them. Why, Jacobs is asking, this sense of inherited guilt?
2. A dialogue of Plato speaks of the “infatuate obsession that is bred in men by crime done long ago and never expiated, and so runs its fatal course” — and that helps to explain why humans are irreverent toward the gods. There it is again: a sense of inherited guilt and the need to expiate that old sin.
3. David and Bathsheba — and David’s prayer in Psalm 51: “Behold I was shapen in iniquity” — Jacobs like the KJV — “and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Why this wording? Why this explanation? Maybe not a full-blown original sin, but it’s more than just “I did it; blame me.”
4. Confucius, Mencius, and then Xun Zi — a move from the need to develop disciplines and the right kinds of leaders to conquer sin, the ongoing life of injustice and a lack of compassion, if society is to improve. Xun Zi said “the nature of man is evil.” Correctable, but still evil.
5. A story, which didn’t convince me like the first four, of his experience of a woodmaking shop in Africa and a student who explained a piece of art that involved fighting back the gods.
6. Finally, in Papua New Guinea, the Urapmin who converted to the Christian faith, a whole tribe. But then struggled and struggled with the ongoing presence of sin — after conversion. Why? they were asking.
So, there are some examples. How to explain this stuff? The ubiquity of a conscious of sin, of the inheritance of sin, and of the need to expiate or deal with that sin.