The doctrine of Original Sin is one of the most contentious doctrines in Christian teaching.
At its most extreme, the doctrine of Original Sin holds that every human being comes into this world totally depraved, utterly sinful. We are born imprisoned in a condition of sin and the inherited collective guilt of all humanity. In ourselves we are utterly powerless to do anything good. We must be completely reborn by the Spirit in order to escape the terrifying justice that awaits all those sin-sick souls who remain by nature, bound in darkness and destined to an eternity of suffering.
There are two problems with the doctrine of Original Sin in its most strident form:
1. It fails to take seriously the reality that people are capable of tremendous beauty, goodness, and love even though they completely reject the doctrine of Original Sin and its offered solution to the alleged human dilemma.
2. It has never looked deeply into the eyes of a small child.
The purity and innocence of all human beings in their early years, should be enough to at least call into question any suggestion that we come into this world as totally depraved beings locked into a dark miasma of sin. It is true we all reach a point when this dark vision may appear to be an accurate description of our nature. But we did not begin in this blighted condition and we are all, at times, able to live in a more noble fashion regardless of the presence or absence of faith in our lives.
In the face of the beauty of a little child, it is tempting to dismiss the whole idea of Original Sin altogether. Perhaps we were born completely perfect, flawless little beings who have been twisted over time by the cruel forces of culture and the violent reality of the broken human community into which we were born.
But, if our awareness of the beauty of an infant, tempts us to dismiss the doctrine of Original Sin, honesty about the darker side of our nature, might cause us to pause a moment. It is undeniable that, somewhere along the journey of every human life, there is a dark bend in the road. We all turn away from the luminous purity and innocence we originally brought into this world. We all wander off down violent byways and follow the deceptive illusion of self-interest, greed, and power that lead away from our true destiny.
The doctrine of Original Sin can be viewed merely as an expression of the awareness that every human being lives imperfectly the gift of human life we have been given. Paul is not being unnecessarily dark or pessimistic when he declares that
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
Paul is simply acknowledging the reality of his own deep inner awareness that he was created for something more luminous than he consistently achieved.
There is undeniably some quirk in the human condition that causes us to cause pain. There is a crack that runs through the centre of the human condition. The rough edges of this crack in our lives inevitably lacerate the people with whom we interact. We are wounded and we wound one another. There has never been a human being who did not bleed. There has never been a human relationship on this earth that did not transmit some pain.
The wreckage of the human community and the inexpressible beauty of humanity bear abundant witness to the fact that, when the Christian church developed the doctrine of Original Sin, it was reflecting seriously on the human condition and describing a reality with which we are all familiar.