Monday, August 16, 2010

On the "Fairness" of Original Sin

For many, Original Sin is a deal breaker. I hear it so often that it's almost a cliche. "It isn't fair that we were all punished for Adam's Fall." Dave Bazan lamented the unfairness of humanity's state in his song "Curse Your Branches":
All fallen leaves will curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all
This is a popular sentiment. I know personally of several friends who have gone from Christian theism to agnosticism or atheism because they could not "get over" the issue of original sin. As I understand it, the issue of Original Sin was a factor in Bazan's own abandonment of Christianity.

So is it unfair? What I want to do is step in underneath of the question and look at the two worldviews by which one can even ask the question, because my contention is that in the Christian worldview, Original Sin is coherent, it is fair, and it is just.

Lets look at the person who says, "Original Sin isn't fair, and because of that I can't believe it or Christianity are true, since Original Sin is essential to what we know as Christianity." Lets first ask the question, where is this person getting this notion of fairness from? This is a fair question since he is essentially judging the whole Christian system by one of its parts.

Lets say for the sake of discussion that he is judging the fairness of the Christian God by an unbelieving ethical system such as consequentialism... In that case, they are not judging the Christian God by Christian standards. In this case, the criticism must be made on a worldview vs. worldview basis. This means that the "fairness" question can't be raised by someone else's standards. The disagreements are too foundational to simply argue on the basis of a preferred ethic. "Who cares, if your ethical system doesn't think that Original Sin is fair?" would be a completely legitimate response in this sort of situation. Therefore such a criticism from unbelieving presuppositions cannot lead to a valid claim of internal incoherence.

The only standard by which a claim of internal incoherence (aka "unfairness") can be made is by Christian ethical standards. But given the Christian worldview, there is nothing unjust or unfair about God's decision to so constitute humanity with a single individual as the federal head of the race. The point is, if you are a Christian and you are struggling with the issue of the fairness of Original Sin, you need to ask yourself the question of where you are standing when you make the unfairness critique. If you are standing on Christian standards, the problem of unfairness isn't an issue, and if you are standing on skeptical or unbelieving standards, then your critique is invalid for your purposes anyway.

Many people who adopt skepticism because of theological wrestling like this don't give up because they have found an actual contradiction in the Christian worldview. They abandon their Christianity because we live in an intellectually lazy society that has adopted skepticism as an intellectually valid approach to life. If something is too hard to think through or figure out, then it must not be true since all claims about reality should be arrived at via the easiest and plainest seeking and searching (Ockham's universally applied razor?), and if we can't make sense of it right now, then it must not be true since reality should be inherently simple. As I said, I think the single greatest source of agnosticism, skepticism, and abandonment of faith is that people don't know how to think, they don't know how to reason, and when they find themselves in a mental bind, when they hear the flak guns hitting the plane, they jump without a parachute, as though that somehow puts them on better footing.

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