Friday, August 8, 2008

Original Sin - By Alan Jacobs

A few years back a friend of mine told me that I should read A Trip to Vanity Fair by Alan Jacobs. This was a friend whose counsel I took very seriously, so I went to the campus bookstore to get the book, but when I got there I had trouble finding it until I looked in the clearance section. This did not commend itself to me (books that seminary students refuse to buy to the point that they end up in the clearance section are suspect in my estimation). But I trusted my friend and brought the book home. It was a book of essays, not normally a favorite genre of mine, so I thought I'll read one essay and be able to say that I'd tried. The next day when I finished the book I decided that I had a new favorite author and needed to purchase everything he put on paper.

And I have been doing just that, and this year he put out a new book called Original Sin. This was not a book of essays but rather a survey of western history and literature on the topic of Original Sin. And as usual I found it to be insightful and entertaining. I really enjoyed how he would pit two recurring commitments against each other. He pointed out that universal human sinfulness (the evidence of original sin) is the most provable doctrine. We see and experience our sin and the sin of others, then there is also the awareness of the inner war where we love the things that we hate. He pits this against the human resistance to acknowledge this universal sinfulness. We tend to think that we may make mistakes but we are not really that bad. I found the way that he entwines these ideas throughout the book really exposes the pride of our hearts and our ability to justify our own sin and condemn the sin of others. (I loved the chapter titled, The Wicked, but not Very)

This will not be a lengthy post, I just wanted to alert you to a book and an author that should be read much more widely. Now I would like to leave you with a quote from his afterword where he is describing what is necessary to hold the Augustinian (and I think Biblical) understanding of Original Sin.

"You must believe that everyone behaves in ways that we usually describe as selfish, cruel, arrogant, and so on. You must believe that we are hard-wired to behave in those ways and do not do so simply because of the bad examples of others. You must believe that such behavior is properly called wrong or sinful, whether it's evolutionarily adaptive or not. You must believe that that it was not originally in our nature to behave in such a way, but that we have fallen from a primal innocence. And you must believe that only supernatural intervention, in the form of what Christians call grace, is sufficient to drag us up out of this pit that we've dug for ourselves."

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