Political reporters learn about St. Augustine. Chaos ensues.

On Friday, Angus Dwyer wrote on Twitter:

You’ll never guess what uncontroversial Christian doctrine this Republican candidate and/or office-holder believes!

Yes, friends, it’s that time of month again, when political reporters discover Christian doctrine and write BuzzFeed-style pieces about how outrageous said doctrine is! This weekend’s example comes, conveniently enough, from BuzzFeed’s own Andrew Kaczynski:

Virginia Republican Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson candidate said birth defects are caused by sin.

The headline and subhed:

Va. Republican Lt. Governor Candidate Said Birth Defects Were Caused By Sin 

“It is the principle of sin, rebellion against God and His truth which has brought about birth defects and other destructive natural occurrences.”

Is St. Augustine running for the Republican nomination to be Lt. Governor of Virginia? Because he wrote about this idea a long time ago! As reporter Joel Gehrke gently replied to Mr. Kaczynski:

Don’t most Christians think that the world would be perfect if not for sin?

Kaczynski then appealed to his 12 years of Catholic education to say he had never heard of such a notion. Gehrke provided links to Augustine.

It turns out all sorts of Christians teach and confess that evil is not the result of a loving God but, rather, sin. Just randomly from the Google, for instance, I found this passage on an Antiochian Orthodox Church web site explaining Holy Unction:

Sickness is the weakness of the body as a result of the sin of the world. Sickness is not the punishment from God of personal sinful behavior, per se. We all share in the consequences of sin in this world.

I hope no Orthodox Christians think about running for political office! BuzzFeed is on it!

I’m not saying Christian teaching on sin, sickness and death is easy for an uninformed person to understand. It’s not. It’s a topic that has been a challenge for Christians since Jesus first told questioners that a man’s birth defect was not the result of his sin or his parents, as had been held. He goes on to heal the defect and give everyone a larger lesson about everyone being born blind and defected.

I imagine that when some reporters read the Republican candidate’s words, they just assume the worst or even just assume that he was saying, contra what Jesus taught while performing miracles, that birth defects were caused by the personal sins of the involved parties. I haven’t read Jackson’s book, but you certainly would need far more than the passage quoted by BuzzFeed to accuse him of straying so far from traditional Christian teaching.

I know it’s the season for catching a certain type of candidate spouting Christian doctrine. But let’s work a bit harder on our understanding of basic Christian teachings before writing pieces such as BuzzFeed’s (since picked up by a few other outlets).

Botticelli’s St. Augustine via Wikipedia.

  • FW Ken

    You would think that reporters would get a sense of original sin since their papers are full of its consequences. But I guess it’s hard to connect the dots in a culture of atomized individualism. I guess personal sin is the only sin people can recognize.

    • Sari

      FW Ken–The concept of original sin may be specific to Christianity, which may be why the media fails to “connect the dots”. It has no place in Judaism, for instance. Does Islam to subscribe to it?

      • Jerry

        Islam does not as far as I understand it. And, of course, Hinduism does not either.

        • Sari

          A quick wiki-look suggests that the concept is specific to some (most?) forms of Christianity.

          I would like to have seen Jackson’s comment in context, to understand what he really meant. Many, many religious Christians (and Jews and Muslims and others) see disability as the direct result of personal rather than original sin. It’s almost more of a superstition than an aspect of theology. In addition to the Buzzfeed link, a link to a more comprehensive and less biased article would have been appreciated.

          • MollieZHemingway

            To understate wildly, St. Augustine and his writings on evil are neither obscure nor lacking influence in Christianity. Would be hard to overstate their import, in fact.

          • Sari

            The key words are “influence in Christianity”, how his teachings are interpreted by each denomination, and how obvious the tie between Jackson’s comments and St. Augustine’s teachings would be to a person on the street, especially one lacking a Christian education.

            I do not condone the Buzzfeed article, simply for its nastiness, but I would have liked a transcript of the entire quote and what precipitated it to fully understand the meaning behind Jackson’s words. And I would like to see the same principles applied to the basic tenets of all religions, that some things be considered obvious, rather than interpreted through a Christian (or nominally Christian) sensibility as so often happens.

          • FW Ken

            Jackson is the subject of the article, and a Christian, so how Jews, Muslims, Hindus, et al view sin and evil isn’t relevant. It’s interesting as an exercise in comparative religion, to be sure, but it’s Christianity that the reporter failed to “get”. And it’s Kaczynski’s own religion. If he were Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, it might be expected that it would not be obvious to him. But when he appeals to his own (poor) Catholic education, he’s just looking ignorant.

      • wlinden

        But Judaism has plenty of references to “the evil inclination”. (Yezer ha-ra)

        • Sari

          Human beings are assumed to be inherently good, each born with a pure and unblemished soul–made in G-d’s Image.

          Yetzer hara and hatov reflect the tension between the choices we make and the choices we *should* make–the potential of every action, but they are in no way analogous to original sin. Think of them as behavioral forks in the road for which we must take responsibility. One sins and asks forgiveness from the wronged party, either the person or G-d, depending on who was wronged.

      • Tim Hoskins

        That Original Sin is a unique doctrine of Christianity is irrelevant. Jackson’s Christian beliefs are the subject in question, thus it is a (professional or amateur) reporter’s duty to research and understand them so as to accurately communicate the facts to his or her readers.

        Kaczynski as a private citizen may not be expected to know the ins and outs of Christian doctrine, but when he presumes to publicly comment on Christian beliefs, it becomes his duty to be able to do exactly that. Even though I’m not a Muslim, if I were assigned to the Cairo bureau, it would be my job to educate myself on Islam.

        Moreover, the intellectual principle of Charity prevents someone from automatically assuming the worst reading of another’s statements.

  • wlinden

    There are people who claim that the reference to attributing congenital blindness to “this man’s sin” is “proof” that “the Bible teaches reincarnation.”


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