Pervasive Original Sin

The Doctrine of Original Sin is so pervasive throughout mainstream Western Christian thought that it is hard for theologians and pastors to give it up. Yet the notion that babies are all depraved and tainted with guilt from Adam’s sin flatly contradicts Genesis. How well are you doing in getting people to understand the fallacy of the Doctrine of Original Sin?





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Dear JLL


The Believer’s Dilemma website shows how the dark and dangerous version of Original Sin that you describe can be traced back to Augustine, at a time when Christianity was caught up in a life or death struggle with Paganism.  Augustine condemned unbaptised babies as a weapon of mass conversion.  Luther and Calvin totally denied human freewill.  


The theological problem begins in Genesis, which was always interpreted by Jewish rabbis as a story about the misuse of freewill, not the loss of freewill. Augustine, Luther and Calvin all claimed that human freewill was lost and replaced with depravity, which leads directly to universal condemnation for all humans, including babies. Most modern theologians, pastors and priests teach a more nuanced theology although they have never renounced Augustinian Original Sin as the source of an ugly wrath-filled religion.  


To understand the theology of Augustine, Luther and Calvin you would need to study thousands and thousands of pages with the Bible knowledge of a theologian and the rhetorical skills of a criminal lawyer.  Most of us get lost along the way and fall back on a reassuring belief that God is both good and just.


Beneath all of the world’s religiosity, one commandment appears to be universal and eternal, and our source for this simplified theology is Jesus himself (Mark 12:29-31) It is quite simply the Golden Rule - love your neighbour. Jesus added a second – Love God. It is actually the first commandment, but is less universal because it is not acknowledged by atheists or Buddhists.


Religions that tend towards the Gospel of Wrath emphasize devotion to God (invariably a wrathful God) that is strong and sometimes blind; and they are quick to condemn their fellow humans to eternal torment.


Religions that tend towards the Gospel of Anti-Wrath emphasize brotherly love and compassion for suffering humanity. They are inclined to relegate God to the role of absentee landlord – or to agree with Voltaire that if God does not exist we need to invent him.


The starting point for all revelation and religion is Eden.  If we believe that the story is about freewill, then the suffering of this world can be understood as a temporary consequence of its misuse.


As a young man, Augustine was a staunch supporter of freewill and the idea that we are all personally responsibility for our deeds and misdeeds.  As an older Bishop he changed his mind and denied freewill. The many books he wrote against poor old Pelagius document this shift in thinking and the elaboration of the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin.


Denial of freewill lies at the heart of the Gospel of Wrath.  Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and modern Creationists are all prepared to condemn multitudes to eternal torment for reasons that are trivial or purely circumstantial.  


The Bible begins with Eden and ends with a temporary resurrection of the dead, often called the millennium because of its real or symbolic duration of 1,000 years. If our human existence is about learning to use our freewill and take responsibility for our actions, then almost all of us die in an unfinished state.  The 1,000 year resurrection described in John’s Book of Revelation provides a time and place for divine love and justice to be made manifest. 


Christianity is the only religion that requires a clear and comprehensive eschatology. This is because of the claims made about Jesus being the only possible Saviour.  How could that make sense to people who live (or lived) in cultures that have (had) no knowledge of Jesus?


Disciples of Wrath deny freewill and deny any ‘second chance’ for salvation outside this brief life.  That creates a particularly narrow and ugly religion (at least for the Unsaved).  Augustine, Luther and Calvin all eliminated the Book of Revelation and its temporary resurrection from their theologies.


Disciples of Anti-Wrath deny that God could refuse salvation to the multitudes of people who never knew Jesus.  Their faith in a loving God is much greater than their faith in a Bible which appears to say things that are irreconcilable with love and justice. They do not interpret the Bible literally, and their faith is logical rather than Biblical.  Jesus must necessarily become an incidental character who is not the     source of salvation.  


You asked what kind of response I’ve had from visitors to the Believer’s Dilemma website.


Disciples of Wrath, because they don’t truly believe in freewill, cannot believe that almighty God would have allowed Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and their own teachers to err so egregiously. Even if all the pieces of evidence I present make more sense than what they’ve been taught, they cannot go against orthodox tradition.


Disciples of Anti-Wrath, because they have freed themselves from the tyranny of man-made doctrines and writings, do not want to start restoring authority to the Bible, and particularly not to the disturbing Book of Revelation.   


Almost everybody who visits the website finds it interesting, and some will allow that they wish it were true. But few are ready to believe it.  We all have freewill.  The Gospel of Love offers an intelligent, coherent, moral, and Biblical alternative to the Gospels of Wrath and Anti-Wrath.  However, we all need to work out our salvation in our own ways and times.   



Comment or Question?


Further reading:


The historical (Augustinian) Gospel of Wrath


The reformed (Calvinist) Gospel of Wrath


The contemporary (Creationist) Gospel of Wrath