“Born Into Sin” Just Means Born, Period

toolsA reader wrote to me of her disdain for the Christian concept of original sin. “I do not subscribe to the Christian concept of original sin,” she said. “This concept has humans born as damaged goods, not pleasing to God.”

For all those who don’t know, when Christians refer to babies being “born into sin,” or to the “fallen state” of mankind, what they should be referring to is the simple truth that without exception every human being is born with an extreme predilection toward mean-spirited selfishness and greed. We all have a side that is dark, ugly, petty, vengeful, shameless.

Not having that side is not an option. If you’re human, you have it. That’s all “born into sin” means. It’s just a way of acknowledging that being essentially evil is hardwired into every human.

The question is: How do you fight against your base, animal nature? How do you beat it, rise above it, become better than it?

In that struggle Christians employ Christianity. Jews use Judaism. Muslims uses Islam. Atheists use reason.

We’re all fighting the same fight. We’re just using different tools.

 

See also the follow-up to this piece, The Biggest, Most Harmful Misconception about Christianity.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://annaldavis.wordpress.com annaldavis

    You make a good point that we're all fighting the same fight. If we didn't struggle against our base nature, why the need for self-help books and personal improvement programs?

    Lots of people use psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, or exercise. Sometimes all of the above.

    It takes effort to be a good, moral person. Why is this? Because at the very least we are all prone to selfishness, if not outright evil.

    Anna

  • http://solnushka.wordpress.com/ Solnushka

    Young children are certainly extremely self centred and have to be taught kindness, gentleness, sharing (I said SHARING. NO! Let GO of the…..), letting other people win (I said LETTING…) and so on. You have to spend quite a lot of effort teaching those things. I hadn't considered before that this might be the Bible's way of suggesting we need to do so. Interesting.

  • http://mrhackman.blogspot.com Andrew

    "That’s all “born into sin” means. It’s just a way of acknowledging that being essentially evil is hardwired into every human. "

    I am not sure I would go so far as to say we are essentially evil; but I would definitely say we have an anchor that must be overcome.

    However, I know many Christians who would take what you said much, much further. To them, we are evil PERIOD. That no one does anything good.

    I, of course, think that is poo-poo thinking.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Andrew: I didn't actually say that people are essentially evil. I said that being evil is essentially hardwired into the human system. What I meant by that is that the capacity—the "extreme predilection" (to again quote myself) for evil lies within all people.

    We're all half and half, basically.

  • http://mrhackman.blogspot.com Andrew

    fair enough :)

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Sol: The point, of course, is that it's not just children who need to learn control over their baser selves. It's everyone, forever. We never stop being–or being inclined toward—selfishness, greed, jealousy, etc. They're as much a part of us as our arms and legs. That's all "born into sin" means. That phrase has just gotten tweaked by Christians who … well, don't know what they're really saying when they use all those words they think they're supposed to use so that they sound like good Christians.

  • Pat

    This is a great post on a fascinating issue but part of what makes it especially fascinating is that we also have instincts to be selfless, generous, caring, etc. I would slightly modify your characterization of "ris[ing] above … your base, animal nature" to say that we try to encourage and increase our altruistic nature and suppress our selfish instincts. That is, I agree that we're mostly "half and half" but I would say that the positive half is not the conscious struggle we make but rather is instinctive as well. As much as we cannot help being angry and feeling vindictive at times, we also cannot help but feel empathy for others and grief at their tragedies. Desire for community is built into us just as much as desire for war is, and this paradox is an essential part of what it means to be human.

    As a non-believer, I feel that people who are religious often forget this. That is, they often view our tendency toward good as coming solely from something external, leading to perhaps well-intentioned though frustrating questions about what motivates non-believers to act altruistically. At the end of the day, neither I nor you can help but feel sad when someone we love is suffering.

    • Chewa_11

      As a Christian, I believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. And since God is love, just, and Good, all human beings are imbued with those qualities – regardless of your faith.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, for sure, all humans come with the capacity for love, justice, and goodness. The question is what to do, and how to process, all the stuff humans also come with that isn’t even ALMOST that stuff.

  • Greta Sheppard

    so……what has all this discussion led to? We all agree there is a bad side and a good side to most of us. so……what's wrong with admitting that 'we are all born with a sin nature?' what are we trying to prove here? ……is it just argument for argument sake? I really can't see what we are trying to prove!

    Maybe it's because I'm tired…been on the road all day doing wedding rehearsals! I need a coffee……

  • Patrick K.

    "In that struggle Christians employ Christianity. Jews use Judaism. Muslims uses Islam. Atheists use reason."

    Only euphemistically might I say that is correct. Non-believers do not really 'use' anything to keep themselves from raping and pillaging. They are good just because all of humanity, as societal animals, have adapted to achieve greater success by participating and sharing with and protecting and empathizing with the rest of society. (There are exceptions to be sure)

    I would suggest that Muslims and Christians and Jews THINK they are using their respective religions to keep them on the straight-and-narrow, but they are really guided by the same innate forces that guide us all. In fact, I find it speaks very poorly of the believer that says 'religion is what keeps me from doing bad things'. You might THINK that religion is what keeps your boat on course, but I guarantee that if you remove the forces of religion, you would find your boat stays on the same course…(or even finds some calmer waters).

  • http://jerrisblog.blogspot.com Jerri Harrington

    It's not about Christianity working on the bad parts of our nature so much as it is the Holy Spirit changing us and growing us into who God created us to be. We have to fight our sinful nature…or give into it…or pray and ask the Holy Spirit to conquer it. I find that when I give up my part of the fight ask for help, the battle is fought for me. That's the only way I can explain some of the changes God has made in my overall nature.

  • Sammy L.

    I would agree with Patrick. It a very perceptive assessment of religion and morality. I am sure that Jerri thinks that it is the Christian god making him/her a better person, but there is no reason to think that they couldn't become that same better person through non-supernatural introspection.

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.blogspot.com/ Julia

    Glad I was able to inspire a post and insightfull comments, John. ;)

    If all original sin means is learning to discern between healthy and unhealthy acitions and thoughts and strive to be a better person by being responsible for all you do; then why all the hubbub about accepting JC or god wont have you?

  • Sammy L.

    That is one of the problems with the 'traditional' beliefs in Christianity (though also true in other faiths). When a religious narrative is developed over millenia, each of the components build on and reinforce one another. Eventually many of the individual precepts themselves become keystones in the narrative as a whole. In this case, if you call into question one of these premises ( 'original sin' in this case…which I find abhorrent in its traditional interpretation), then they often and logically lead to questioning other tenets and the whole framework, if analyzed from outside the bubble, would come tumbling down.

    Religious traditionalists paint themselves in a corner when they recognize something as being wrong, yet they can't change it because so much else rests on it. They then stick to it come hell or high water so as not cause more bleeding and putty the crack with "we mortals can't know God's plan" or such other nonsense.

    A thoughtful believer could probably identify 6 or 12 basic precepts that, if dismissed, would likely turn Christianity into deism.

  • http://solnushka.wordpress.com/ Solnushka

    Well, I know it's not a ermanent fix, but one of the things I always find surprising about people who lived a long time ago is that they do, actually, notice the same things about the world as we do. And look for causes and so on just like we do. It just occurred to me that this is one such occassion.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure that their explanation was entirely helpful, as whilst I am prepared to accept that one interpretation is as you say, and that it is basically a halpful reminder, the _explanation_ for a long time was, essentially, that it was Eve's fault. Bad ur-woman. Bad women.

    I'm happy to agree with their observation, just not their conclusion.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Sol: God, I suppose there are still people out there—I mean, obviously there are a humongous number of people out there—-who still, in one way or another, blame Women for all that's "fallen" in the world. That's pretty … tronglodytish, though. No one sane can still believe that nonsense. Besides, in the Adam and Eve story, ADAM comes out the worse. He's such a … sniveling, cowardly, blaming little liar.

  • http://solnushka.wordpress.com/ Solnushka

    … score two points for the observational powers of the poeple who wrote the Bible then…

    (Sorry, couldn't resist).

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    You lost me as to what you couldn’t resist. Was it agreeing that men are sniveling liars, or that “people” wrote the Bible?

  • http://solnushka.wordpress.com/ Solnushka

    I'm afraid it hadn't actually occurred to me that people might not have written the bible. That is some culture shock there.

    Besides. Clearly men are snivilling etc etc.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    You just can't be too careful when you're talking to people about the Bible; I don't know but that you DON'T think there are people who take offense to the idea that "people" (as opposed, of course, to God) wrote it. You might think there are fundamentalists who believe that; you might think you were taking a swipe at those people. Just being sure.

    I resent you calling my kind "sniveling." Stop saying that. STOP IT! Why are you saying that? Won't you please stop saying that? C'mon. We're trying. Can't you please at least tell us that we're trying? Is there anything more we can do to please you? It would be so great if you would tell us what it is. Please?

  • http://solnushka.wordpress.com/ Solnushka

    You're trying. Very trying.

    (Oh now really, you handed that to me, didn't you?)

    You have no idea how relieved I am to hear there aren't people who think the Bible has sprung completed out of the head of God. So to speak.