Posts Tagged ‘Hans J. Morgenthau’

Use and abuse of the doctrine of original sin

February 9, 2021

When I was a small boy, I used to dread the Easter sermons in the church my parents sent me to.

The pastor, who was a fine man, would preach about how Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sake.

Jesus, literally the best person who ever lived, a man who loved everyone and harmed no-one, had his hands pierced with nails and his side with a sword, and was given vinegar to drink.

And why did he have to suffer and die in this horrible fashion?  Because of people like me.  Because we were so sinful.  Because that was the only way to save us from the consequences of the sins we had committed.

My feelings of guilt did not make me a better person.  I was selfish, lazy and weak, and at the same time self-righteous.

I felt I was better than irreligious boys my age because I at least was aware of how much of a sinner I was. But then I thought that having pride in a sense of guilt was just as bad as any other form of pride.

Adults did not understand me. They thought I was a nice boy because I was obedient, agreeable and an “A” student in school.

Mary McCarthy, in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, remarked that religion is good for good people and bad for bad people.   I guess this applies in my case.

Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness, wrote that people eaten up with guilt are egotistical.  We are preoccupied with ourselves.  We would be happier if we had objective interests and if we thought more about other people and less about ourselves.  This applies in my case, too.

I thought I might get rid of my feelings of guilt if I had sufficient faith, as great Christian figures of the past had done.   But I lacked faith.  I doubted everything.

I shared my doubts with my Sunday school teachers.  My doubts did not bother them.  They were, if anything, pleased that I took religion seriously, which so few boys my age did.

They did not take my doubts seriously. They told me that my doubts would resolve themselves when I became a mature adult.  However, neither of these things happened.

So far as I know, I was the only person in the church congregation, young or old, who felt as I did. 

My guess is that a large number were not bothered because they did not absorb the message Dr. Norment was trying to convey.  My guess is that the rest understood it through a filter of common sense.

The common sense way to hear Christian message would be to think: Yes, I am imperfect.  I try to be a good person and very often fail.  I repent of my failure, and try again, and, in the meantime, I do not judge others harshly for their failures.  That wpuld be a healthy way to respond.

As for myself, I resolved my problem by ceasing to fight my doubts about Christian doctrine.

I joined a small Unitarian fellowship in my native city as a young adult, just before the Unitarians merged with the Universalists to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

The Unitarians and Universalists are two small sects that originated in the 19th century USA and were noted for not having any binding religious creed.  We committed to living by living by certain principles rather than believing in certain doctrines.

Interestingly, Unitarianism and Universalism had their roots in early Christian heretics that St. Augustine regarded as his enemies—Arius, who taught that God was a unity, not a trinity; Origen, who taught universal salvation; and Pelagius, who taught that people were not inherently sinful, but capable of choosing between good and bad.

For me, they provided a moral community to which I could belong while being open about my thoughts and doubts.  I am a Unitarian-Universalist to this day.

I’m bothered by the readiness of some contemporary UUs to accept the idea of white guilt, which is very like the doctrine of original sin.  Feelings of guilt are not the best motivation for striving for justice, because your focus is on yourself and not the needs or wishes of the people who are actually suffering from injustice.

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