The inspiration for this post began as a conversation with my youngest daughter. We were driving home the other night she told me that the Religion teacher assigned a research topic with a written report. Her research assignment was original sin.
She then admitted that she chose the topic. Original sin has long been a topic she feels strongly about.
“The relationship between God and man has been broken by original sin. Man could not pull himself up by his own shoe-strings, and thus the only hope of restoration was from God’s side. Yet it was from our side that things had to be put right. It appeared hopeless. But God found the answer. For in Christ he himself became man, and as man reconciled us to himself.”
– John A. T. Robinson (Honest to God, P. 78)
I am willing to bet this notion, outlined by former Bishop John Robinson, is familiar to us all. After all, the Bible is the word of God. The Bible holds God’s moral codes set down for the Church from the beginning of time. God’s word is then interpreted for the Church through God’s anointed servants within the Church hierarchy. Those Church leaders explain that the Cross represents salvation, as salvation is attained by Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross.
Bishop Robinson originally wrote these words as a challenge to our Church leadership. These notions are outmoded Christian concepts that are really only acceptable to more traditional members of the Church. Bishop Robinson was asking for the Church leadership to acknowledge that other less traditional members of the Church need a voice and a platform for greater spiritual growth.
This would include my daughter.
“For many Christians, the significance of the Incarnation is that it ended with an atoning death, one that cleansed impurity, carried away sin, or purchased salvation… Some concept of the incarnation precedes all their atonement concepts, but does not supply the actual content of their atonement reasoning… These notions may be common, but they turn out not to be essential to Christianity…”
– Stephen Finlan (Problems with Atonement, pp. 3-4)
Original sin is a normal conversation in my family. I realize that other families avoid religious topics but that is not our way. All three of my daughters have been discussing theological topics, such as original sin, since they were in Junior High. The original sin doctrine felt wrong to my youngest daughter, even then.
Because she had two older sisters my youngest was exposed to Scripture study earlier in her education. She remembers expressing some concerns about original sin as far back as the 4th grade. She had been taught that the poem of Adam and Eve was not literally true, but actually a story drawn from much older Babylonian myths.
That is why my youngest chose original sin as her research topic.
“the first man was scarcely self-conscious, knew only privation and the wearisome struggle to survive. He was far from possessing the full endowment of reason, which the old doctrine of paradise attributes to him. But once the picture of paradise and the Fall has been broken into pieces, the notion of original sin goes with it, to be followed logically, it would seem, by the notion of redemption as well.”
– Joseph Ratzinger (Faith and the Future, p. 17)
Adam and Eve never existed and the Fall of man was a myth, yet the Church continues to explain Atonement as if the Fall of man were literal. The quote from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was written to say that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we acknowledge that Fall, original sin, and redemption are myths.
As Catholics we don’t have to believe this way. My 10th Grade daughter can separate myths from her faith. Catholics, even in Junior High, can understand that Adam and Eve and the Fall of man is a retelling of an ancient Babylonian myth and still be believe in God.
We pray that the Church will allow traditionalists to hold onto their more literalistic interpretation of original sin and at the same time allow non-traditionalists to accept that there is no need for original sin.
I don’t know how the teacher will respond to my daughter’s research paper, but she has had practice broaching controversial theological topics in school.
When Catholic Church leaders allow room for a traditional and non-traditional response to original sin all of us will be more faith filled.