Do we have to believe that we’re bad to the bone?

The third in the latest “Take and Read” series — a book analysis, discussion, and dessert group led by Paul Doerksen of MBCI — happens this evening and the book we’ll be talking about is Original Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Jacobs’ book is not a theological study of original sin (by which is meant “sin that’s already inside us, already dwelling in us at our origin, at our very conception”), but rather, as the subtitle suggests, the story of how this doctrine has worked itself out through (Western) history. Nor is the fact that humans do wrong under debate. That seems obvious enough. Anyone with self-awareness or knowledge of others, or with even a rudimentary sense of the 20th century knows how unloving and selfish, how truly cruel, we human beings can be. 

“Where does this wrongdoing come from?” asks Jacob. “What is its wellspring, the source of its ongoing prevalence and power?” In contemporary culture, scholars like Steven Pinker emphasize the biological determinants of human behaviour, but even they can’t explain “why selfish and violent are pejorative terms for us.” It’s time to re-consider peccatum originalis,  Jacobs says, “the belief that we arrive in this world predisposed to wrongdoing.” Continue reading