Rejecting Original Sin

We must reject the heresy known as “original sin” if we strive for human liberation. This inherent element of the human condition constructed by theologians argues that we are born with a “stain” on our soul that requires an individualized need for divine atonement.

Although the principle of original sin is absent from the biblical text, the supposed Fall of humanity (Gen. 3) and the carnal relationship between women and heavenly creatures (Gen. 6:1-4) provide speculation concerning sin’s origin. 

The Babylonian captivity, when Hebrew thought was exposed to Persian ideology, advanced the formation of this doctrine. Specifically prevalent was a dualism between good and evil and the personification of evil in Satan. 

For some, an external diabolical entity (e.g., Satan) forced its way onto the human condition. For others, human proclivity toward sin created the eternal struggle for dominance between humans’ corrupt nature and their desire to do good.

With the rise of Christianity, patristic writers hardly mentioned the idea of ​​original sin. Tertullian was the first to propose that Adam’s soul was related to those of his progeny, arguing all souls were contained in the original soul infused into Adam by God. Adam’s original sin thus marks these souls. This doctrine, called traducianism, was the precursor to our modern idea of ​​original sin. 

The Eastern Greeks held that original sin was a wound inflicted on our nature. Thus, in a mystical sense, we share Adam’s subversive act. Preceding Augustinian formulation, they argued sin was contracted through copulation.

The British monk Pelagius rejected any link between Adam’s original sin and its correlation in posterity. Realizing the pessimistic effect this negative view of human nature could have on moral behavior, he proposed a paradigm to counteract these tendencies. Rejecting all propensity toward sin, he emphasized the notion of free will, liberated from the influences of the universe and the Fall.

Augustine of Hippo challenged Pelagius, declaring that “we all sin because we were all that man (Adam).” Sin is transmitted through the theory of “seminal propagation.” In the paternal semen, a generic spiritual substance (fomes peccatum) is transferred generationally. 

While precursors emphasized a certain solidarity with Adam, Augustine formulated a “peccatum originale” doctrine that graphically depicted humanity’s complicity in Adam’s rebellion. The cornerstone of Augustine’s biblical defense was Romans 5:12b, which he interprets as “in whom all have sinned,” and because we are “in Adam,” his sin is in us too. 

However, Augustine relied on the ancient Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible that prevailed before Jerome’s Vulgate. Unfortunately, ἐφ᾽ ᾧ, which translates as “because,” was replaced by the Latin word “in whom.” Consequently, Augustine misinterprets when reading the phrase, which should have read, “for we all sin.”

Despite this misreading, Pope Zosimus outlawed Peliagianism at the Council of Carthage (418). Later, Pope Gregory (590-604) called Augustine an infallible teacher of the Christian faith, ensuring the prominence of his doctrine of original sin in the Western world. 

As a partial response to the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the theory of original sin, its transmission from Adam and its consequences on the body and soul. 

These actions demonstrated how political power was responsible for maintaining and sustaining a religious doctrine. By exercising ecclesial power, they ensured that Augustinian doctrine prevailed. Exercising their position as representatives of God on earth, they established the necessary disciplinary procedures within the hierarchical contextual power to dictate truth. 

The doctrine of original sin became a reality when ecclesial power enforced the thoughts and theories developed by the early church theologians. This ideology motivated the people to act in certain ways, which validated and legitimated the supremacy of the church. 

Promoting this doctrine normalized ecclesiastical preeminence. If all humanity had been born with a stain on its soul whose consequence was eternal damnation, then only the church possessed the faculties to control the means of redemption and exercise unassailable power. 

By withholding sacraments, the powers of reigning sovereigns were usurped in favor of the clergy. The Augustinian doctrine of original sin contributed to the theological justification of secular domination by the ecclesiastical power structure, thus exchanging the liberation found in Christ for the oppression caused by the church. 

Calvin continued the Augustinian tradition by solidifying the connection of Adam’s sin to his descendants. Original sin, he argued, is “a hereditary depravity and corruption in our nature, diffused to all parts of the soul which makes us sensitive to the wrath of God and also brings upon us what the scriptures call ‘the works of the flesh.’” 

Capitalism, the social counterpart of Calvinist theology, reflects the state in the life of the individual and the unequal distribution of the world’s goods as special dispensations of God. Loyalty to social position, without considering the economic misery caused, is pleasing to God. God thus predestined that today’s dispossessed are born into socioeconomic oppression because, unlike the elect, they are not chosen by a capricious God.

The heresy of original sin, which argues for humans’ depravity, becomes the excuse for oppression. But if this is true, then how do we explain sin? Why do humans choose evil? 

I argue not for humans’ depravity but simply for their stupidity.

Previous ArticleNext Article