The scandal of disagreeing with doctrine

I’ve written before about why I don’t believe in good people. Truthfully, I could believe this with or without Christianity and the doctrine of Original Sin. But it’s one thing to believe humans are “not good,” and quite another to say we are fundamentally “broken.” I’ve listened to and read stories of former Christians who endured years of poor self-esteem because of the way they were indoctrinated: made to feel guilty and hate themselves simply for being born.

More progressive strands of Christianity might say we are “flawed” in place of harsher terms like “broken” or “depraved,” but the sentiment is very similar, and likely won’t make skeptics feel much better.

This has been an issue of contention between me and a close Christian-turned-atheist friend. This is one doctrine I have not been willing to budge on, much less reconsider. Here’s a revealing truth, though: it may not be entirely inaccurate to say my view of mankind has been strongly influenced by the abusive relationship I was in for five years. Being told I was worthless by my boyfriend, mostly through actions, and then told the same, in words, at Campus Crusade for Christ was an easy transition for me. Had I been a psychologically healthier person, I might have pushed back on this teaching a lot more.

I tried the “flawed not broken” approach with Neil. The idea that “doing good” is not the same BEING good. He wasn’t buying it:

Can you say instead that humans are constantly learning? How about evolving? Slowly progressing? Making advances all the time? In the cosmic time scale (think in millions of years, not hundreds, because life doesn’t evolve at the speeds we prefer), we are moving forward. Might we fail to overcome our own limitations? Sure, we might.

But any look back through history requires selectivity of some kind, an interpretive grid. The one Christianity uses DEMANDS that humanity be seen in a fundamentally negative light. But why? Why must the capacity for harm and self interest be the thing we say is MORE BASIC? What compels us to do that? Is it because the number of evils in our past outnumber the goods?

Are you sure about that?

Or are you compelled to do so by a narrative that requires it, because without that piece, the whole edifice of this religion collapses upon itself?

Well. Color me speechless. I really have no idea how to respond to this.

Or this:

You know how the news adage is “If it bleeds it leads?” The reality is that thousands, maybe millions of good things are happening every day, but they don’t make the news. Why not? Because that’s just not how news works.

And what is history if it’s not “the news” compiled over the course of thousands of years? Human history is a distillation of all the bleeding and leading of hundreds of thousands of news cycles. That skews our perception. Badly. Toward seeing humans as collectively worse than they really are.

Nobody writes history about the guys who decided NOT to start a war.

Neil’s words aren’t illogical. In fact, he presents a very believable case by citing real-world observations, as opposed to me citing a handful of Bible verses from a book that no longer has the same authority for him that it once did.

Brutal honesty must be one of my spiritual gifts, because otherwise I’d never ask myself what Neil is asking. Not to myself, and definitely not on a public blog (call me a spiritual exhibitionist): am I compelled to defend this view because a narrative I believe to be divinely inspired requires it?

I used to joke that anyone who is unsure if Original Sin is real should babysit a child in the midst of the Terrible Twos. Choose the wrong colored sippy cup, and bring on the apocalypse.

But that’s an expected phase of childhood, and I don’t have to have kids of my own to doubt this doctrine when holding an innocent, chubby-cheeked, sweet-smelling baby. I did just that at a Christmas party last year, and had to fight off that “Ooooh, I want one” feeling.

Yes, I doubt this doctrine. And it’s a slippery slope, because if humans aren’t inherently not-good, why did Jesus have to die? What is it that he died for – our bad life choices?

It could all fall apart.

I don’t think I’m a “true” agnostic. Agnostics, from what I know, make peace with uncertainty, and I’m not good at that. “Agnostic” is less a self-identifier as it is a name for a phase – a dry spell, a season – that I’m in right now. It’s not a place I want to stay. I have a long-term goal of getting my faith back. You could say I’m an agnostic with an agenda.

I’ve seen the complete picture of the puzzle on the box, and it looks beautiful (many will disagree, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?). But putting all the pieces together myself is a long-term project, in which I’m fairly certain a few pieces are missing. The entire puzzle will never be complete. Therefore I must learn to live with an incomplete vision of the finished product.


10 thoughts on “The scandal of disagreeing with doctrine”

  1. This is such an interesting discussion. As my beliefs are evolving away from fundamentalism I’ve begun to see the foundational truth about humanity is that we bear the image of God – a great capacity for good. What I once categorized as “sin” I now see as falling short of that capacity, being less than our best selves.

    Our new church talks about health rather than the loaded and judgemental word sin. I think this movement from primal instinct to altruism is much like the evolution of humanity, something that plays out as humans mature and grow (or don’t in some cases). Much of the brokenness in the world has its roots in deprivations, mental illness, corrupt systems, et cetera. I don’t think we need to spiritualize it to understand it. But the best parts of us, the most sublime moments of love, the beauty that transcends… I see God in that. And maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I’m okay with that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmmm. I could be wrong here, but Neil’s line of thinking appears very black-and-white.
    Christianity does not *inherently* mandate that humanity is seen in a negative light, because one can both be “broken” AND “good.” In fact, I’d argue that humanity is inherently good and inherently broken.
    Because there’s bad s*** in life. People mess up, intentionally or otherwise. You can call that brokenness, human nature, human limitations, Original Sin, or whatever you want, but it’s a fact. (I will agree that the label “sin” usually bears the context of intentional wickedness, which is can be problematic because most actions aren’t motivated by a desire to do evil – although some, unfortunately, are).
    If I subscribe to the Christus Victor/Moral Guidance view, Jesus either relieved us of the burden of punishing ourselves for effing up, and/or enlightened us that our fairly barbaric notions of justice, kindness, etc., were flat wrong.
    That doesn’t demand that we see humanity in a negative light. It sees us as worthy and capable of better than we were and are currently doing, while realistically acknowledging that we can (blank) up a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your comment, it sums up what I was thinking! Your view of both good/bad is expressed in a Dr. King sermon “The Answer to a Perplexing Question”. This idea of both is also promoted by the Quakers, who believe that there’s something of God in each of us but there’s often evil as well. I see the evil, for example, in the abuse that comes up in online discussions I participate in(often the abuse is done in God’s Name).
      In the Orthodox Church salvation by deification is taught; namely becoming like God in character but not Essence. It’s more of a saved *to* approach. However since I’m not Orthodox my analysis may not be the best.

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  3. I recently read about uncertainty on Psychology Today ( It is a really interesting concept that we do not want to accept a position that we just don’t know. We want order when sometimes there is none. I felt like I was agnostic for a while when I was losing my faith. I wasn’t. Maybe doesn’t help when you ask yourself a yes or no question – like at all. I first found enough flaws in reason and resolved enough cognitive dissonance to realize that I disbelieved. It took about 8 years. I am an Atheist now but feel like when I can truly accept that we just don’t know enough about existence and should be content with not knowing I will be agnostic.

    I don’t think you can discuss whether people are inherently good or evil without discussing objective and subjective morality. As a disbeliever/humanist of course I think our subjective morality as is tied to empathy through evolution. There are some valid points and counter points but for me this clip put the most pieces together:

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  4. And it’s a slippery slope, because if humans aren’t inherently not-good, why did Jesus have to die?

    And if humans are the inherently not-good creations of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god, with no other entities who might have meddled in their creation being able to do anything that god either didn’t anticipate or didn’t allow…how does that make sense?


  5. I’m more of the sort to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but even that has it’s limits. It’s one thing to give somebody some slack if they’ve had a hard day and been unnecessarily tough on everyone else. but If every day is a hard day or they’re prone to losing their temper, then I’d get out of there. I studied Arminianism and Calvinism and I decided that I don’t care about Original Sin. Sure, people aren’t exactly a bastion of moral perfection – but I can’t believe that we’re so sinful that we’re only out for ourselves and none of us are capable of doing good or as Calvinism would say, any good we do is actually egotistical and selfish in disguise. To me that’s calling good bad and leaving room for bad to be good – especially when people who think they are saved can do no wrong and everything they do that seems abusive or hurtful is actually kind and an attempt to correct somebody else. That’s when it gets out of hand. I do agree with you though, that as soon as anyone comes to believe something that is not already taught as ‘orthodox’ that it’s something of a scandal – and that just shuts down for any chance of meaningful dialogue. Faith shouldn’t be an exercise in conformity, but one of discovery even if the puzzle you manage to complete looks nothing like the the one the box told you to make.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your faith blogs always resonate with me, in a huge way. I feel like I’m in the same position – somewhat agnostic at the moment. I freely admit I’m ticked at God about some things, and that may well be shading my thoughts. But at the same time, I keep feeling like something’s wrong with my religious life, and I’m not sure what it is. But reading you and Neil (just rediscovered him) and Samantha is giving me much to consider. I truly appreciate all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in the place you mentioned a few years ago and, unfortunately, I took it out on others and was a bit of a smartmouth and didn’t care. Part of what softened me up was 1) realizing some of my peers were upset by some of the same things upsetting me; 2) beginning to look at things from a different perspective; 3) getting a Twitter account and following/commenting on various blogs, which further expanded my worldview and dusted off old ideas and perspectives that lay dormant.(Long story)

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