Theology of the Polished Turd

Theology of the Polished Turd May 20, 2022

In the beginning, God made a turd. And God breathed into it the breath of life and said, “Man! That stinks!” So, God broke off a fragment of the turd to polish as a treasure and then threw the rest in the fire.

“Shit Icon With Smiling Face” by is marked with CC BY 2.0.

These few sentences may offend conservative Christians who don’t realize that this is their gospel in a nutshell. The doctrine of original sin claims that every human is born stinky because every human descends from a turd. No matter what we try, we can’t wash off the odor of Adam and Eve’s sin, because it’s in our genetics. We are made from the fiber of the forbidden fruit. As a result, we are rotten to the core.

The problem is, if you tell a child they are a turd often enough, they’ll start to believe it. I know because that’s what the kids on the playground called me. I used to go by my middle name, Todd, which translates easily to Turd if you’re a mean kid at school. Every day they called me Turd. So, I decided to do something about it.

There are a handful of things a person might do if they repeatedly are given the doctrine that they are a turd.


Believe It

You might accept turdiness as your reality. If that’s the case, you will start acting like a turd all the time. Viewing themselves as destined for the fire, fertilizer, or flushing, you’ll spend their life doing nothing but stinking and grossing everyone out. I work with people all the time who believe they are no better than the brown squish stuck in the tread of your shoe. Trust me—it’s no way to live.


Leave the Playground

You can refuse to play with those kids and find different friends to play with. This is part of the reason the church is declining in attendance in the West. Because we cling to this idea of original sin, we refuse to see how our message is driving people away. It’s not because they are rejecting the gospel. It’s because they are rejecting the name-calling of playground bullies who want them to believe they are just pieces of shit. When you start your gospel with that kind of message, it’s no gospel at all. Every other point of theology gets lost in, “What did they just call me?” People finding a different playground.


Polish the Turd

You can accept the message that you’re nothing but a turd but try to polish yourself as bright as you can. Many Christians do this by practicing works-righteousness, trying to do their best to earn grace. Evangelical churches do a great job of convincing us “saved people” that we need to continue to please God-the-Hall Monitor. My Sunday school teacher used to admonish, “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do.” Even though we claim to be saved by grace, we don’t act as if we believe in grace. It’s all about earning God’s favor. We have internalized the message that we are shit that might possibly be acceptable if we can just polish ourselves enough.


Change Your Name

The last thing you can do is deny that you are a turd. Like I told the kids on the playground, “Turd isn’t my name!” And just so that they got the point, I started going by my first name instead. It’s high time we told the kids on the theological playground, “That’s not my name!” By denying total depravity and arguing against original sin, we insist that the defiance of Adam or Eve does not define us. Instead, we have a better name.

Before the fall in Genesis, God gave us that better name when God declared us to be “very good.” Genesis says we are made in the image of God. That is our original nature, not some imagined nature of sin. We have a better name than what the theological bullies have given us. Let’s start living by it.


Remember Who You Are

If there is an original sin, it’s that we believe in our original state of sinfulness. It’s that we accept the lie that we are separate from God, that our nature is fallen. Jesus didn’t come to make bloody atonement for some imaginary original sin. He came to remind us of who we are, as bearers of God’s divine love. That is atonement—attunement to God.

Every day before my brother and I went to school, our mom would pray over us. Then she would send us out the door with the reminder, “Take God with you, and remember who you are!” Of course, it’s impossible to not take God with you since God is in everyone and everything. What she meant was to take our nature as children of God seriously, and to remember that we are bearers of that divine image. When we forget who we are and start listening to the playground kids who call us a turd, it messes with our heads. We either sink into the stinky behavior, leave the church playground altogether, or spend our lives trying to polish a turd. But when we remember who we are, we can declare our true name and then live according to that divine nature.

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