Catholics, some Protestants: how core is Original Sin to the doctrine? The culture you grew up in?

I am not a Christian, but checked it out while growing up, studied the Bible a bit, etc. But I know and engage active Christians and really notice differences in how they approach their beliefs and living their faith. After pondering this, it seems that the doctrine of Original Sin is a key component. ??

It is my understanding that Original Sin is intended to explain the fact that Humans are Frail.

  • As doctrine, it says we are frail and prone to bad thinking and acts because we carry the original sin of Adam and Eve within us.
  • As a cultural component of some Christian denominations, it seems to translate to: “you are a frail human, and you should feel guilt and shame for your weak thoughts and actions. You must turn to God to ask for forgiveness.”

It seems to me that Original Sin seems to change the focus of a religion, from “You should believe because of what’s good about this faith” to “You should believe because you should feel awful about what you are, and see belief as your only hope.” It changes from Running Towards Something to Running Away from Something, in some core ways. ?

So the doctrine evolves into a form of cultural force. It feels like that approach - “you should believe because you should feel awful about yourself otherwise” - has HUGE implications for how a person views themselves and their approach to bettering themselves. And different denominations use (or explicitly do NOT use) this as a pillar for how they want a Believer to engage their faith. ??

Is that fair - am I getting it correctly, and its place in some denominations? Is Original Sin a pebble tossed into a person’s beliefs and sense of Self that creates HUGE ripples over time? Have you experienced this in your upbringing? Was it explicitly discussed, or are you coming to this conclusion over time upon reflection?

Thanks. I hope it comes across that I am looking for information and factual experiences, NOT soap-box arguments for or against faiths. I am NOT trying to find ways to condemn faiths that embrace Original Sin; I am trying to understand the impact of having it as a pillar. It seems important in obvious, but also really subtle ways.

As I learned it as a Lutheran, the emphasis is put on what God in his mercy has done. It isn’t so much being taught to feel bad about yourself and then what you ought to do, because the you is too marred by sin to be able to do anything pleasing to God without God’s intervention. Faith is a gracious gift nobody can choose or even play a role in facilitating apart from the Holy Spirit. Emphasis on human feelings and emotions were for the most part intended to be disconnected from our worship, prayer, and study. Regardless of the times the bible mentions good works and obedience, we were taught none of it is possible by our choices. One of the things that was often criticized was the trend of the “born again Christian”, because of their emphasis on choosing to be born again.

I personally struggled with guilt at times and maybe I was an anomaly for that compared to my peers in the church. When I left the faith as a young adult, I felt firsthand for the first time the world of how high the stakes were when my family reacted poorly. It kept them up at night. Your description of original sin as humans are “frail and prone to bad thinking” sounds mild compared to what we believed as well as many others, which is all humans inherit a sinful nature and are born deserving of hell for eternity.

Thanks for that, and yeah, I was trying to avoid sounding provocative in the OP, but I understand that in some denominations, humans are expected to feel really awfully about what they are.

My father was a Midwestern Fundamentalist minister (and later a Biblical scholar). His particular brand of Protestantism does not believe in original sin, which is why they do not baptize infants. If a child dies before they are capable of understanding right versus wrong, they will go to heaven. (Andrea Yates killed her five young children so that they wouldn’t get old enough to go to hell). Once children reach that magical but undefined age, they must choose to be baptized or they’ll go to hell if they die.

I requested to be baptized at age six, but more for the attention and to please my parents than to be saved. I was not exactly told that I was inherently unworthy of eternal salvation, but somehow I was always aware that I didn’t cut the mustard with Jesus.

Although I will confess that theology is not my strong suit, I can say that the concept is of guilt is downplayed in liberal Catholic and many mainstream Protestant churches. On Easter, the Catholic liturgy says "“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” This places original sin in what Catholics anyway believe to be its proper place, as a source of eternal gratitude for undeserved grace.

For myself personally, I think of it as the western version of a story about the nature of consciousness told in many religions and cultures; why we are Fallen now, why we got kicked out of paradise. Human beings became human by acquiring the awareness of good and evil, and the awareness of themselves as separate from each other thing and from God. And this is our curse, from which we cannot ever completely escape.

I am probably not answering the question though.

This is what I was taught growing up in Fundamentalist Pentecostalism. Such a horrible, horrible thing to teach little children and it took intense therapy and many years for me to heal from the brainwashing.

When I was first in therapy, my therapist had me take a whole bunch of these quizzes to see how fucked up I am (not the technical term). One of the quizzes was all about concepts like:

Do you feel you are inherently worthy as a person?
Do you feel that you deserve to be loved?
Are you a basically good person?
There were like 10 or 12 of them, all along those lines. And I answered them honestly. I even laughed at them all collected together because how entitled and self-centered and conceited would a person have to be in order to think so highly of themselves?

My therapist teared up when we talked about that test afterwards and she said she wouldn’t be able to help me, and referred me to another one who specialized in PTSD from domestic abuse.

I’m not sure whether I’m more proud or more disturbed by the times I’ve reduced a therapist to blank incomprehension or open horror at my childhood indoctrination.

So yes, in my experience, Christian doctrine is all about how wretched and lowly and awful you are, and how you should continually feel VERY BAD and guilty that you personally are so awful that you made God himself have to suffer horribly and die humiliatingly just so He can tolerate the sight of you.

So, first, a caveat: I’m not Christian. But, my mother was a devout Lutheran, and tried to raise me and my sister in the faith. I stopped going to church when I was around 10, so what follows is my hazy memory of sermons and Sunday school from a few decades ago, along with general impressions from cursory discussions with more devout family members.

My recollection/understanding is that, at least in the churches my mother’s side of the family attended, Original Sin is definitely a core belief, but not one that was emphasized. It was treated more as a simple statement on human nature, and actually had a positive spin. Human beings are fallible - but God loves us all unconditionally. No one is perfect. Even Jesus had his moment of doubt and pain on the cross. But that’s ok - God doesn’t expect or want perfection. He wants us to genuinely try to live a “godly” life, and genuinely repent when we do something wrong.

My father was a “soft” atheist who stayed out of that part of upbringing, but both he and my mother definitely raised me a secular version of this mindset that still stays with me. I, like everybody else, am imperfect. I will at some point screw up and do the wrong thing. But my parents neither expected nor wanted perfection. They just wanted me to genuinely try to live right, and genuinely take responsibility when I did something wrong . And they would love me unconditionally, no matter what.

By the way, my mother was devout, but not a literalist. She regarded the story of the Fall as she did most of the Bible - as a story. It said something fundamentally important and true about human beings and our relationship to God, but I don’t think that she or her co-coreligionists literally thought that at some point in actual history a specific human ancestor committed the first actual, specific sin, and that caused a literal expulsion from a physical Paradise.

This would have assploded the wimples of Sister Mary Gerard and the other 1950s-era nuns I — kind of — survived.

Granted that my memory isn’t what it used to be, my recollection is that the term “Original Sin,” while it referred to the sin that got humanity kicked out of Eden, didn’t mean the same thing when applied to us; rather, it was a catchphrase (for want of a better term) for the residue of that sin which predisposes us to fall short of the perfection which God desires for us. Baptism “washed away” the sin in the sense that it granted us the grace to remain pure and resist evil.

And that’s where the Guilt which was a hallmark of Roman Catholicism of the time came into play. It wasn’t guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve; it was Guilt for our own failure to keep the milk in our bottle white* and thereby disappoint God (and make the Baby Jesus weep, although I’m not sure the figure of speech had been coined back then).

*Victims of the Baltimore Catechism will know whereof I speak.

In my liberal-to-ultraliberal Christian existence, Original Sin (in its pure/strong form, “babies are evil the moment they’re born, because of being human”) is not part of the picture at all - except to on occasion publicly debunk it as a ridiculous distortion of the truth.

I think most people don’t really think a lot about religious doctrine, including their own. They’re more following the religious practices that they grew up on.

That said, I see Original Sin as the hook in Christianity. It makes the religion mandatory rather than optional. Original Sin says that everyone is guilty from the moment of birth; therefore you can’t avoid guilt by living a sinless life. This means that everyone, even those who commit no sins, needs to accept Christianity in order to be forgiven for their sins and have their guilt expunged.

I was raised Roman Catholic. We learned about Original Sin in catechism classes, and heard about it in sermons during mass once in a while, but that’s about it. It certainly wasn’t any part of day-to-day Catholic life. It was doctrine, but little more. Sort of like learning an obscure math proof or physics formula: you’d trot it out when you needed some theoretical finesse, but most of the time it wasn’t on your radar.

It isn’t so much the doctrine of original sin that’s a problem. All it really says is that humans are flawed, and they have been all the way back to the beginning.

The problem comes in with how that gets preached to you.

A) “We all make mistakes, but God forgives. Relax and accept God’s forgiveness.”

B) “You’re a hopeless screwup who deserves to burn in Hell forever, and only a mysterious and unfathomable supreme being is letting you off the hook.”

It’s like finishing second. Do you have the parent who congratulates you for doing your best, or the parent who tells you second place is for losers?

Right, “Catholic Guilt” as was pounded into us was not about Original Sin (which after all gets taken care of with Baptism), but about having had drilled into your head an unattainable standard by which God is seeing and judging every act, omission, thought and emotion as it happens, and you can’t help failing if you lead a normal life. A dude can’t even have a private wank in peace, fer cryin’ out loud.

The way the Brothers taught it to me, Original Sin does mean *all *are in need of redemption due to being congenitally disconnected from God, and you cannot innoculate yourself from sin or merit that reconnection by your own will and deeds alone: God has to grant you his Grace for it to happen (*then *you *do *have to start walking the talk). But that does not mean you are especially loathsome, because since God is absolutely perfect there’s no way any earthly creature could ever look good in comparison; and (selling point of the religion) he gives you a way to take care of it.

As **kunilou **states, *then *the difference becomes if that last part is a soft sale or a hard sale.

I’ve heard of Catholic Guilt (sin) and Jewish Guilt (mothers) and Protestant Pride. But never Protestant guilt. It’s certainly not something I was taught (Presbyterian / Baptist).

Original sin is fundamental. It’s part of the explanation that God is good, even though life is unfair. That’s not something to feel guilty about.

And it’s culturally important. It underpins my thinking about crime and punishment. I just can’t come at the idea that you are a better person than the criminals you prosecute and condemn. Also, it is the appropriate reaction to Protestant Pride :slight_smile:

I grew up Catholic, and we too did not fixate too much on Original Sin and its implications for all of humanity, though it was always there as a backdrop. But here’s the thing: if the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man s figurative, not literal, then there was never a literal Adam, a literal Eve, a literal Garden of Eden or a literal talking snake; yet the concept of Original Sin relies on the sin of a specific Adam and Eve. Without them, there is no Original Sin. And if there is no Original Sin, then there is no need for a saviour, which puts the purpose of Jesus Christ in question. It’s almost like the church needs Original Sin in order to justify its existence.

Are animals evil from the moment they’re born? They’re certainly not human and wouldn’t be affected by the same temptations we are. Or at least I don’t think they feel particularly guilty when they do things.

Are you saying that this is what you were taught growing up, or that this is your own personal belief?

My own point of view is almost the opposite. It doesn’t make sense to me that human sin could have originated from two literal individuals long ago just tasting a literal piece of fruit. The only way the story has any hope of explaining the human condition is if it has a Deeper Meaning, if tasting the fruit can be understood as an allegory or symbol or metaphor for something that does make sense as an origin of human sinfulness.

As for my own religious upbringing (in a mainline Protestant denomination), I remember learning about the story of Adam & Eve, but I don’t remember being taught any particular interpretation of it, nor do I remember specifics about what (if anything) I was taught about Original Sin.

As a practising Catholic, both Adam and Eve ARE real people. Original sin is real and the story teaches about the fall, although the specific aspects of Eden and fruits are mythical in the strict sense of the meaning.
From the Catechism:

How to read the account of the fall
390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.265

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”.291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

405 Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

And finally an Encyclical

“When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

Original sin is not central in the sense we don’t go back to it except as a background answer to “why are we all fucked up?”

Thanks for clearing that up, but it has only reinforced my skepticism, not my belief. I read long ago in a short book called “Catholic Answers to Fundamentalist Questions” that Adam and Eve were regarded as symbolic rather than actual people. The book was in the library of the Catholic school I was teaching at.