You would think that, in order to convert from one religion to another, one would have to be pretty damn certain about their new beliefs. And I was – I still am, for the most part. It’s the details that sometimes trip me up – are people born sinners? Will God eternally punish people who believe the wrong things? Is it really fair that the entire human race got screwed over because our ancestors ate the wrong fruit?
I’m reading Original Blessing by Danielle Shroyer right now, in which she argues that the entire concept of “original sin” is a harmful misrepresentation of what the gospel is about. Jesus came in the flesh, she argues, so that we may have life to the full – not to appease the wrath of an angry God who was so disgusted by his own creation that an innocent man had to die to make up for it.
I’m only two chapters into the book, so I can’t offer a fully informed opinion yet. But I can say that Shroyer is touching on all the same reasons that Judaism rejects the notion of original sin. At the time that Jesus arrived on the scene, it’s unlikely that original sin was something he would have been taught as part of his Jewish upbringing.
In fact, the phrase “original sin,” let alone any suggestion that Adam and Eve’s transgression afflicts the entire human race, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew scriptures. This teaching comes to us from the Paul in the New Testament.
This is the point in my “testimony” where emotions drive the story. Did I really believe that humanity was born depraved at the time I “got saved” ten years ago this fall? Not necessarily. But I believed, on some level, that I was.
My fascination with saints was a large part of my childhood, yes, and as a teenager, I was jealous of the personal relationship my Christian friends had with their God. But as a 19-year-old college sophomore whose boyfriend had raped her the previous spring, I believed I needed to be cleansed of the shame. And as I become involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, or Cru as it is now known, I believed I needed to be absolved for my sin of agreeing to spend spring break in his dorm room in the first place. What did I think was going to happen?
Thankfully, years of counseling have helped redirect my framing of what happened. The shame is no longer mine – it’s my ex-boyfriend’s. I’m not the one who needed to be forgiven – he is. But the Cru-flavored Christians taught that his sin of rape was just as devastating to God as consensual, premarital sex, or talking back to your parents, or masturbating. I couldn’t believe it then, and I really struggle to believe that now. That kind of “sin leveling” is what allows pastors to get away with sexual abuse, because “all fall short of the glory of God,” and your private indiscretions carry the exact same weight.
At the same time, I don’t believe that anyone is truly “good.” The shocking number of “good people” who voted for Trump, and continue to justify his actions still, are proof enough to me that sin is a very real condition.
The fall season coincides with the Jewish High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The confession that takes place on Yom Kippur is communal. Jews confess as a group for their mutual failing to do the right thing, to be less selfish, to not be grateful, or what have you. The categories of wrongdoing are vague on purpose, because they mean different things in different people’s lives.
After this communal confession, the Jews are absolved for the year, ready to begin again as their names are rerecorded in the Book of Life. Unlike in evangelical Christianity, they aren’t continually defined by their wrongdoing.
And yet, both religions fully acknowledge that sin exists, and that it continues to be an on-going problem.
So do I still believe that Jesus died for our sins? Yes, I do; I believe that his sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for our repentance. But that doesn’t mean that Shroyer’s take is wrong, either: Jesus did come so that we may have life to the full. If dying on the cross was his sole purpose, why live for 33 years first? He could have been born fully adult and executed immediately, but he wasn’t.
The cross may be the culmination of the story (actually, that’s probably the resurrection), but it’s not his whole story. And if humans are truly worth no more than pond scum, why bother with such a sacrifice in the first place?