Scott M points out some of the most significant intellectual problems with the doctrine of Original Sin:
There are many ways in which this peculiarly Western variation of
Christian belief distorts the faith. I mentioned one, the fate of
infants who die, because that’s something I immediately noticed when I
began turning to Christianity. It’s something that matters deeply to
me. While the Roman Catholic Church has moved away from limbo, this is
still a theological issue. That is also true in most forms of
Protestantism. Each tradition may have its own way of ‘dealing’ with
this problem (the SBC, for instance, simply declares it not to be a
problem out of the blue), but it is a problem. That is not the case and
has never been the case in Orthodoxy.
But it strikes much deeper, into the nature of the Incarnation
itself. And you see this borne out in Western theology. You see, if we
all have and are guilty through this inherited nature, how was it Jesus
didn’t inherit this ‘sin nature’? Roman Catholics take it back a
generation and came up with the Immaculate Conception of Mary. God
shielded Mary from inheriting this nature so she could provide the
perfect womb for Christ. Some strains of Protestantism stick more
closely to a more literal ‘seminal reasons’ line of thought and tie it
to the semen of the father. They all are trying to address a problem
the Orthodox have never had.
Further, it’s a ‘problem’ that strikes to the heart of our
salvation. For if I have this inherited ‘sin nature’ and Jesus did not,
then he and I are not of the same nature. It renders moot the promise
of Scripture that Jesus fully experienced all that I experience, was
tempted in every way, yet did not sin. Moreover, as Athanasius aptly
put it, that which is not assumed is not healed. If Jesus was of a
different nature than me, I’m still right where I was.
Fortunately, that is not what Holy Scripture and the Church teach.
Rather, Jesus was fully human in every way that we are human, he
inherited all the forces that inevitably lead us to sin, yet did not
sin. In him, fully human in every way and fully divine, we have true
hope. He is not someone behind whom we hide from God. Rather, we follow
him and through his grace and the power of the Spirit, we are able to
become like him. We are truly saved in the deepest sense of the word.
But for that to be true, it is critical that Jesus’ human nature truly
be the same nature with which we are born — not something different.
And this continues to play out in the way we then view God,
especially in our eschatology. Here, I deeply appreciate the exchange
N.T. Wright describes have with an Orthodox Archimandrite in the
Sistene Chapel. The Orthodox priest pointed to the scenes on the left
depicting aspects of Jesus life and said, “These I understand.” Then he
pointed to the scenes on the right depicting Moses and the Law and
said, “These I also understand.” Then he pointed to the judgment scene
behind the altar and said, “This I do not understand.”
The distorted way the doctrine of ‘original sin’ has led many to
view the human being has in turn distorted the way they view God, the
way they understand the problem, and the ultimate destination toward
which we are all journeying. It’s a fundamental Western distortion that
sends threads in many different directions.
For those who want to understand the Orthodox perspective, I believe
there is a lot online if you search for “ancestral sin” or “ancestral
sin vs. original sin”. Obviously, don’t take everything you run across
as ‘gospel’ truth. 😉 For an Orthodox perspective in general, Father
Stephen Freeman’s Glory to God in All Things blog is excellent. For
philosophical/theological questions like this, I like Matthew
Gallatin’s “Pilgrims from Paradise” podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.
You may or may not find that you agree with the Orthodox
perspective. For me, it was not a question of finding new ideas.
Rather, again and again I find the things I have believed, at least
dimly or in part, ever since I stumbled into Christianity. However, it
is a very different perspective to the Western perspective.