I am merely trying to say that there is a cultural danger inherent in any utopia of perfect reconciliation and–what is another facet of the same problems–that the concept of original sin gives us a penetrating insight into human destiny.
–Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial
In order to show what the doctrine of original sin might mean, it is necessary to return to first principles and examine the apostolic witness to try to identify the roots of what was later to develop into a formal doctrine. It goes without saying that the formal doctrine is not to be found explicitly set forth in the apostolic witness, any more than is the doctrine of the Trinity. Part of my contention indeed will be that the development of these two doctrines are not only legitimate as a proper working out of the shape of salvation produced by the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that they are, in some sense, parallel, and mutually dependent out-workings of the presence of that salvation in the midst of humanity.
–James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes
Problems of sin, death, and the devil don’t seem to be relevant to a supposedly secular age.
Yet, the response to atheist philosopher, Slavoj Žižek (one of my TOP10 atheists who treat religion charitably), using hell-language to deconstruct the Clinton Consensus seems to say otherwise. This age old doctrine of Original Sin has an explanatory power for grasping the continuing crimes and peccadilloes of humanity that is uncanny.
But how does one come to understand the human propensity toward sin? How does one explain it to contemporaries who would like to understand its origins and significance? This is a question a believer friend of mine posed to me in place of an atheist friend who is interested in investigating it more.
My answer is the usual idiosyncratic TOP10 list of books. The list of theology, philosophy, poetry, and fiction books does not appear to be systematic at first glance. This is intentional. I would like to give the reader as many looks at the phenomenon, from as many different angles as possible, to the not entirely familiar, although curious reader.
These selections also trend toward contemporary sources, not because I aim to denigrate the past, but because I believe they are the best gateways to ancient sources, which are written in unfamiliar idioms. They are training for further reading.
As always, I welcome your suggestions in the comments section at the end of the post, and I welcome you to look at my other TOP10 booklists.
The Lost World of Adam and Eve, John H. Walton
2016 Christianity Today Biblical Studies Award of Merit For centuries the story of Adam and Eve has resonated richly through the corridors of art, literature and theology. But for most moderns, taking it at face value is incongruous. And even for many thinking Christians today who want to take seriously the authority of Scripture, insisting on a “literal” understanding of Genesis 2–3 looks painfully like a “tear here” strip between faith and science. How can Christians of good faith move forward? Who were the historical Adam and Eve? What if we’ve been reading Genesis―and its claims regarding material origins―wrong? In what cultural context was this couple, this garden, this tree, this serpent portrayed? Following his groundbreaking Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 2–3, creating space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science for a new way forward in the human origins debate. As a bonus, an illuminating excursus by N. T. Wright places Adam in the implied narrative of Paul’s theology. The Lost World of Adam and Eve will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this foundational text historically and theologically, and wondering how to view it alongside contemporary understandings of human origins.
The Symbolism of Evil, Paul Ricoeur
According to Ricoeur, the most primal and spontaneous symbols of evil are defilement, sin and guilt … Ricoeur moves from the elementary symbols of evil into the rich world of myths … and he ends by suggesting that the clue to the relation between philosophy to mythology is to be found in the aphorism ‘The symbol gives rise to the thought’ … Ricoeur’s method and argument are too intricate and rich to assess in so short a review. Suffice it to say that this is the most massive accomplisment of any philosopher within the ambience of Christian faith since the appearance of Gabriel Marcel.
Original Peace, David Burrell
Original Peace is a work of philosophical theology that places Christ at the meeting place between humans and their natural world. In doing so the authors have given new credence to what is traditionally called “fall-and-redemption theology”, thereby taking exception to the works of some theorists who deny the importance of original sin.This is a profound meditation on the myth of human perfectibility, the mistaken belief that there is no dark side to nature. The authors do not return to simplistic notions about original sin and human suffering, but have forged a new synthesis based on their reading of world religions, Christian scripture and contemporary social sciences. They support the belief that creation in all its manifestations is a gift to be embraced, that even death fades to nothing against the cosmic horizon of God’s creation.– a seminal work that will help shape the discussion about human nature and the natural world of many years to come