The Problem with Generalizing Sin

Another quote from Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell, this from the concluding pages of I am My Body:  A Theology of Embodiment.

“Reflection on embodiment as a central Christian topic prompts mistrust of a Western Augustinian theology which begins with the fall instead of creation and the pleasure which God took in this creation.  It does not see sin as a general fate which is suffered as a matter of principle, and which for many theological traditions is still rooted in sinful human flesh, in the structure of its drives.  It does not fail to recognize the potential for destruction in human beings, but sees this far more strongly as the problem of a lack of relationship, beginning in an earlier phase of life, a lack of relationship between human beings, between human beings and animals, between human beings and their environment.  Sin must be made clear and identified in particular, different conflicts.

A theology of embodiment mistrusts all abstract spirituality which is dissociated from the body, life, earth and social relationships.  It trusts all embodiment which speaks from a concrete, involved spirit.”

This is one of the most succinct and clear descriptions of why I have a problem with the doctrine of original sin.  It negates the power of God’s goodness in the creation accounts by assuming that a bite of fruit can somehow override all that Online Pokies goodness and impose upon the image of God an indelible blemish that gets passed down forever.   I don’t care what theological gymnastics someone tries to do to counter that conclusion.  Original sin devalues God’s declaration that creation is good.  Secondly, it places sin inside our own bodies, which can lead to all kinds of unhealthy responses and rebellions and misunderstandings and miserableness, rather than seeing sin as something that arises in the context of our relationship with others and with the world.  This is no small distinction.  If we are the faith that is founded upon an embodied God, any doctrine that pulls us away from our bodies or keeps us from relating to our bodies in a way that is life-giving is BAD. NEWS.  As Moltmann-Wendel says, none of this is to say that sin isn’t real, or true, or consistently present among us.  It is to say that if we care about facing sin honestly, it’s far better to do so in the context of “particular, different conflicts” than some blanket wish-washy statement about some hidden blemish we all have.  Thirdly, original sin has the characteristic of being dissociated and abstract, two things no good theology should ever have said about it.  Talking about sin is of critical importance, which is why we shouldn’t be sloppy about the way we talk about it.

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