I’m Not a Sinner and Neither Are You. Here’s Why

I’m Not a Sinner and Neither Are You. Here’s Why April 26, 2016

The remains of a dead bird, probably killed by a domestic cat, lie on a brick wall with a camellia blossom. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The bird. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Am I a sinner? I don’t think so. Lots of traditional Christians think that they are sinners — and that you and I are too.

But I’ve never been able to get my mind around the concept of original sin and its corollary, Jesus’s atoning death on the cross. The logic, the math, just doesn’t add up for me. We humans are obviously products of our evolution, which means we do a lot of brutal stuff to other humans, to other creatures, and to the planet itself.

It seems to me that, given our evolutionary origins, there can be no original sin. Original sin is the concept, espoused by many Christians, including Catholics, whereby the first humans — Eve and Adam — chose to defy and alienate themselves from God, leaving a legacy of inherent sinfulness and corruption to all of posterity. According to that thinking, we are, every one of us, intrinsically depraved sinners, responsible not just for our mistakes and missteps, but responsible as well for the fact that we are capable of making mistakes.

Heretical Thoughts on Sin


To my mind — watch out, I’m going to get heretical here — to my mind, if there is an original sin, it is God’s sin. It was God, after all, who created what seems to be a musical-chairs, survival-of-the-fittest world, a world where there’s not enough for everybody. To survive in this context, every individual must brutally compete with every other individual, within and across the species. If the cat is to have dinner, a bird must die.

I like Geoff Machin’s take on sin (which he outlines in my book, “Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith”). Geoff, a physician, describes at length the “red in tooth and claw” nature of nature. But then he goes on to point out that there are human beings walking around on the planet who do things that run counter to their own survival and well being — they risk their lives to care for the victims of ebola, for example, or to take the polio vaccine into a war zone. Says Geoff, “That’s the God in us.”

Works for me.

© Copyright 2016 Barbara Falconer Newhall. All rights reserved.

To read about Harvey Cox on the nature of belief and heresy, go to “You Don’t Have to Believe to Be a Christian.” On the other hand, if this story leaves you needing some levity, find it at “Small Boys — Reading, Writing and Yucky.” 

Gray cat face with yellow eyes. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The cat. Photo by Barbara Newhall

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