Posts Tagged ‘original sin’

The Banality of Evil

February 7, 2015

It would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster…. The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him … neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Penguin:1994, p.276

It is tempting to de-humanise those who do terrible crimes and create distance between them and us.

Why Original Sin is a good idea

January 17, 2015

The doctrine of Original Sin encourages us to inch towards moral improvement by understanding that the faults we despise in ourselves are inevitable feautres of the species. We can therefore admit to them candidly and attempt to rectify them in the light of day…Enlightenment thinkers believed that they were doing us a favour by declaring man to be originally and naturally good. However, being repeatedly informed of our native decency can cause us to become paralysed with remorse over our failure to measure up to impossible standards of integrity. Confessions of universal sinfulness turn out to be a better starting point from which to take our first modest steps towards virtue.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.82-83

De Botton, as an atheist, admits the helpfulness of Original Sin unlike some of his fellow atheists who see it as ‘repressive’, ‘pessimistic’ etc. As de Botton helpfully points out, if we are all naturally ‘good’ it hardly makes me feel better about my (inevitable) moral failings.

Secularism has not solved human needs

January 17, 2015

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting.

We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.

God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.12

De Botton assumed that God was ‘invented’ (he doesn’t provide a scintilla of evidence for this). Whilst he is on shaky ground there, he is on sure footing when he points to the needs that remain for the non-believer. An atheist may reject God because of the problem of pain, but he must still experience pain in this world. His admission about the selfish nature of humans fits better with the Christian idea of Original Sin not of naturalistic humanism.

men are evidently and confessedly corrupt

December 6, 2014

With respect to original sin, the inquiry is not necessary; for whatever is the cause of human corruption, men are evidently and confessedly so corrupt, that all the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from crimes.

Dr Johnson

Liberal ‘optimistic figments’

September 12, 2009

The doctrines of predestination; of original sin; of the innate depravity of man and the evil fate of the greater part of the race; of the primacy of Satan in this world; of the essential vileness of matter; of a malevolent Demiurgus subordinate to a benevolent Almighty, who has only lately revealed himself, faulty as they are, appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than the “liberal” popular illusions that babies are all born good and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for their failure to remain so; that it is given to everybody to reach the ethical ideal if he will only try; that all partial evil is universal good; and other optimistic figments, such as that which represents “Providence” under the guise of a paternal philanthropist, and bids us believe that everything will come right (according to our notions) at last.

Thomas Huxley, Life and Letters, vol.3, p.220, ed. L.Huxley, Macmillan, 1903

online source

There is a reason why these ‘faulty’ doctrines ‘appear’ to comport so well with our experience of the real world, Mr Huxley. They (except the mistaken idea of the vileness of matter – had he read Genesis 1?) are not faulty.

Only by institutions he is made bad

September 12, 2009

Man is naturally good, and only by institutions he is made bad.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754

And who made the institutions?

The nature of man is evil

September 12, 2009

the nature of man is evil, and whatever good appears in it is the result of cultivation.

Hsun Tsu/ Xun Zi (ca. 312–230 BC), Chinese philosopher

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6.5

What a piece of work is man

September 8, 2009

What a piece of work is man. How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty. In form and moving how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a God. The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust. Man delights not me.

Hamlet, II, ii

Running to and from God at the same time

September 8, 2009

The religious and moral life of man is man’s achievement, but also God’s wrestling with him; it manifests a receptivity to God, but at the same time an inexcusable disobedience and blindness to God…Man seeks God and at the same time flees from Him in His seeking, because his self-assertive self-centredness of will, his root- sin, always breaks through.

Hendrik Kraemer, The Christian Message, p.112

What a chimera then is man!

September 8, 2009

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?

Blaise Pascal