Image via WikipediaI am a former Christian and a lawyer. Soon after becoming a Christian, I struggled with the concept of original sin and its moral implications. According to Christian theology, man is born into this world with the stain of original sin – the sin committed by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God’s direct command and ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The consequences of original sin are two-fold. First, man is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in Hell, unless he accepts Jesus as his savior. Second, man is a slave to a sinful nature that he cannot escape during his lifetime, although accepting Jesus is supposed to curb the "lusts of the flesh".
Here is my question: Would the charge of original sin and the imposition of the sentence of death on all people born after Adam and Eve stand up in an American Court? I think this question is a pivotal one, because the foundation for the need of a savior in Christian theology is based on original sin. I have explored this question with many Christians and I have never gotten a satisfactory response. Most Christians say that God is God and He can do what He wants with us because we are His creation. But, is that an acceptable answer? Others will say to me, “Well, God’s ways are not ours, so we have to believe that He is just and moral in charging us with original sin.” Still, others will say, “Well, no matter who was in Adam and Eve’s shoes, they would have disobeyed God, so we all are guilty.”
I will address each of those popular responses later, but first I want to explore the concept of original sin within the context of our criminal justice system. When a person commits a crime, the prosecutors will usually submit their evidence of the crime to a Grand Jury, who will weigh the evidence, including testimony from witnesses and investigators and then either hand down and indictment against the suspect, or refuse an indictment. If an indictment is handed down, the accused is formally charged with the crime and then arraigned in court. There, he can plead “guilty” and go straight to sentencing or plead “not guilty” and demand a trial. If he is convicted and there are no accomplices, then he and he alone bears the full burden of guilt. He is sentenced to a punishment, whether it be jail time or death and no one else shares the punishment.
If you apply the facts of God’s case against mankind in the doctrine of original sin to our criminal justice system, you can immediately see that it does not fit. According to the doctrine of original sin, God holds everyone born after Adam and Eve wholly responsible for Adam and Eve's sin. He punished Adam and Eve and He also punished all of their progeny. Is that just? Imagine if we held the children of a murderer responsible for his crime and punished his children the same way we punished him. What would we say about a system of justice like that? First of all, from a legal standpoint, the prosecutor in our American criminal justice system would never get the indictment against the children of a murderer, unless they were involved in the murder in some way. Secondly, from a moral standpoint, it would be considered barbaric and inhumane to punish the children of a murderer, if they had nothing to do with the crime itself.
But Christians refuse to look at the doctrine of original sin through the lens of justice and fairness. Why is that? Why can’t they see the glaring moral implications of holding everyone responsible for the sins of two people? As I said above, the most popular answer that I get in response to my objection to original sin is, “God is God and He can do what He wants to us, since we are His creation.” This is exactly what the Apostle Paul said to similar criticism of the concept of Predestination in Romans, chapter 9. When Paul's controversial doctrine of Predestination was challenged, Paul replied, "Does the clay pot ask the potter, 'Why did you make me this way?'" I have always wanted to respond to Paul, "If the clay pot could talkm you better bet it would ask, why".
Back to my point about the "God is God" response: Is God above acting moral? Can He circumvent the very moral laws that He imposes on us? I have a huge problem with that. It is one thing if you create an inanimate object, like a clay pot and then decide to destroy it because you do not like it. It is another thing if you create an independent being, with a conscience and emotions and then decide to destroy it because you do not like it. It seems very hypocritical that God would be able to treat us differently than He commands us to treat one another. I doubt if executing the children of a murderer for the crime committed by their father would be considered just under any circumstances. After all, isn't our system of justice is derived from the concepts taught in the Bible?
The next response I always get to my objection to original sin follows the one I just talked about above. Christians will say, “Well God’s ways are not our ways and we just have to believe that He is just and moral in charging us with original sin.” And I have to hand it to them, there are specific verses in the Bible that support their response to my objection. However, do you really believe that there is some hidden moral justification for original sin that only God knows about? And even if there is, why would He withhold that from us? I challenge anyone reading this to come up with a valid, moral justification for holding the children of a murderer responsible for their father’s crime. You cannot do it. Trust me, I have tried.
Another response I get from Christians to my objection to original sin is this: “Well, no matter who was in Adam and Eve’s shoes, they would have done the same thing, so we all are guilty.” Think about that response for a minute. If no one could have resisted the fruit, then that means we lack free will, which raises even more questions of fairness and morality. If no one could have said to the serpent, “No, I think I will just eat something else”, then that means God predestined the fall of man. How could God hold us responsible for doing something that we are unable to resist doing? Believe it or not, the Apostle Paul addressed this very question in the same chapter 9 in the Book of Romans.
Paul was asked by someone listening to his Predestination sermon, “Who can resist God’s will?” In other words, the person was asking how is God just in punishing us for doing what He willed us to do. And do you know that all Paul could muster in response to that very thoughtful and compelling question was, “Who are you, O’ man to question the motives of God?” That was it. I call that the “Wizard of Oz” response to the moral objection to Predestination. “Who are you to question the great and mighty Oz”, said the Oz to Dorothy and her companions. Paul’s response is no response, in my opinion. Of course it is wrong for God to hold someone responsible for something that He willed them to do.
Original sin makes a mockery of our concept of justice and fairness and would never pass muster with us, if it was a rule that we enforced in our criminal justice system. But for some reason, God gets a pass and Christians just accept that God can do what He wants, even if it means doing something that violates His own concept of morality. Christians approach original sin from a biased point of view – God gets the benefit of the doubt. But at some point, you have to draw a line and begin to question foundational issues like original sin. I understand that there is room to argue over things like the Immaculate Conception, women in the pulpit, faith versus works, and other issues that do not implicate basic moral principles. But when the very foundation upon which a faith like Christianity is based –original sin – implicates those principles, you cannot just ignore it and give the Maker of the faith a pass. For if you do, then the faith itself becomes meaningless.