Friday the 13th has come and gone, with no apparent ill consequences at large. Yesterday I happened to read a blog post by a woman of my acquaintance who is just returned from darkest Africa. There, in a mud-hut village, she’d held forth to an audience of several dozen kids, on the topic of man’s fall and Jesus’s sacrificial rescue. She told them that Jesus was there to lead us to eternal life, if only we accepted him. She wanted a show of hands, to see how many were ready to go forth.
“Every hand shot up,” she wrote. “I wasn’t sure any of them understood me, but they were all so eager.”
This was a comic scene straight out of Mark Twain or Dickens, I thought. Wonderful, then and now, the work being done by these emissaries of God. From this point on, besides poverty, hunger, sickness and disease, filth, the heat, ravaging insects and snakes (to imagine just a few), these unoffending Africans will have one more thing to torment them: original sin. That would seem to be the object, at least. I wonder how many of these fledgling converts, in fact, will take up the cross, and how many, once their benefactors are gone, will remember the story about the martyred Jesus—or as much as they grasped of it—as an interesting but irrelevant, even silly, superstition – like Friday the 13th?
The concept of original sin, invented by Saint Paul, that inveterate letter-writer, has always seemed to me one of the most easily demolished tenets of Christian dogma. Jesus had nothing to say about it, merely preaching that sin was a sickness that could be cured. It is only in Paul’s theology that we are born sick. Out of this inspiration the edifice sprouted and grew, taking on trappings and refinements like so many gargoyles, until it became the monstrous and grotesque and truly ridiculous construct it still is today.
The simple argument against it is this: If all of us are as God made us, how can we be held accountable for our natures? You can’t say that man is the agent of all the evil in the world – what about natural disasters, what about the state of affairs before man was even on the scene, when it was a war to the death among all creatures and catastrophes occurred that wiped out entire life forms? To say that man is the reason for evil, retroactively, is to take leave of reason altogether.
The doctrine of original sin ought to be brushed aside, laughed off as we laugh about Friday the 13th. It is woefully inadequate to explain the world as it is. The real evils of poverty, illness and privation can’t be set down to the fanciful theory that we are born in sin, and they won’t be alleviated by the mere act of “getting right” with Jesus.