Our basic core of goodness is our True Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.

Thomas Keating, “Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation”

Total depravity. Broken. Inherently evil. Original sin.

In the Christian religion, these are some of the words used to describe why we as humans behave badly. For many, the doctrine of original sin is the scapegoat for “sinful” behavior. We need an explanation for the evil we see in the world, and this is the go-to answer. However, the term “original sin” is not found in the Bible. In some ways, the church seems to have glossed over Genesis 1 and 2, where we and all creation are called “good… good… good… good… good… very good.”

While Irenaeus and others did early work on the idea of original sin, the full doctrine is largely credited to St. Augustine in the fifth century:

St Augustine, who largely devised the theory of original sin, thought that original sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. Augustine did not say exactly how this happened.

He said that it was transmitted by “concupiscence”, when people had sex and conceived a child.

Concupiscence is a technical theological word that Augustine used to refer to sexual desire as something bad in the soul that was inseparable from normal human sexual impulses.

Sexual desire was bad, he taught, because it could totally overwhelm those caught up in it, depriving them of self-control and rational thought. This disapproving view of passion was quite common among Christians of Augustine’s time. [I, Heather, would say it still is among Christians today.]

Augustine thought that concupiscence was present in all sexual intercourse. He thought that it was just as bad and uncontrolled in a marriage as it was in non-marital sex, but that an excuse could be made for it within marriage because its purpose was to produce legitimate children.

This bad element in sex provides the means by which original sin is transmitted from father to child. It transmits both humanity’s guilt for Adam’s crime and the sickness or defect that gives human beings a sinful nature.” [1]

Additionally, Augustine was the first to add the concept of inherited guilt from Adam (reatus) whereby an infant was eternally damned at birth. [2]

As I pointed out before, this doctrine was formulated between two hundred and four hundred years after Jesus. It was not adopted into the church until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

You guys: the doctrine of original sin wasn’t “officially” taught until about 1,500 years after Jesus. Yet it is something we were handed as fact and many of us don’t question it. It is partially rooted in the falsehood that sexual desire is bad… even in marriage!

So in 2019, the church still teaches people of all ages that they are broken. That they deserve death. That they are guilty, because a woman ate an apple 8,000 years ago somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Surely we can do better than this!

This belief is very harmful. It has serious psychological and mental health consequences. Psychology can very much prove that no one is broken. Contrary to what Augustine believed, sexual desire is not bad. It is normal and healthy, as is a desire for food, love, community, connection, and intimacy. These are all things that humans need to live healthy, full, flourishing lives.

Psychology also explains to us that when we are wounded, our brain literally wires itself in ways that protect us from pain. We are not conscious of this wiring – yet it drives our feelings, the chemicals in our brains, our coping mechanisms and, yes, our habits, addictions and behaviors. Yet, as Christians, we have been conditioned to feel as if we are broken when in fact our biology is functioning exactly as it should.

A friend of mine who is a Christian counselor introduced me to an ingenious term that I think the church (and society) should adopt: generational trauma. This is what Augustine was trying to get at (bless his heart). We don’t pass on generational sin; we pass on our unhealed traumas.

None of us escape trauma. Some of it is large and some of it is small, but no one comes out unscathed. The word “sin” seems to compel us to problem-solve and manage behavior. The word “trauma” awakens us to the internal wound so that we can work to heal it. We are all created “good… very good”, but we must awaken to our individual traumas in order to heal. Pain and trauma that is not healed will be transferred.

Who you are – your True Self – is good. When you accept and truly believe that about yourself, you can then begin to look at the roots of your behaviors and addictions and ask: “why?”

In Greek, the word “sin” means “to miss the mark”. It doesn’t mean “to disobey God”. By sinning, we’ve simply forgotten who we are. Behind every behavior we label as “sin” is a wound that needs to be healed. When you address your traumas and begin to heal, you’ll see the Fruits of the Spirit begin to flow naturally. This is not the fruit of original sin. It’s the fruit of original goodness.

I hope you can shift your paradigm to realize that we are not punished for our sin. We are punished by our sin.

From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature – indeed they are our very nature… The Christian life is simply a matter of becoming who we already are.

Fr. Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ

At the risk of drawing theological inferences from Disney movies, I was thinking the other day about The Lion King. The scene between the spirit of Mufasa in the clouds and Simba paints a good picture of what God is trying to say to us. Scar tells young Simba that his father’s death is his fault. Believing this, Simba internalizes shame and guilt, and flees. He believes this lie about himself (as any child would).

In an unexpected mystical encounter, his father tells him, “Simba, you have forgotten me… You have forgotten who you are, and so you have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life… Remember who you are. You are my son…” Simba then “dies to self” and returns to his home. He Returns to Eden. The process of “death to self” looks less like denying yourself of needs and more like remembering who you always were.

Much like a flower, each person needs to be nurtured in order to grow into their inherent beauty. We don’t have to bend and shape flowers to be beautiful. We give them what they need, and they bloom on their own.

Parents, we often mistakenly think it’s our job to mold children into who we think they should be. In reality, good parenting nurtures what is already there. If you’re reading this now, and your parents never saw the real you, I’m so sorry. I hope you will let these words soak into your soul:

You are loved, you are worthy, you are enough. In your very soul lies faith, hope and love. It is your true nature. You deserve to be seen, first and foremost through your own eyes. You deserve to see who you already are.

References:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/originalsin_1.shtml

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo

[3] https://cac.org/original-blessing-2017-01-04/

2 thoughts on “Original Goodness

  1. If we are inherently good even after the fall, why would we need a savior? And of course I would contend that we do. Of course Genesis is true that all things God created were good. They were created by God. But there were consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. And the struggle is real. The only thing inherently good in me is the Holy Spirit according to the book of Romans. I have always been taught in church that sex within covenant marriage is God designed and intended for both procreation and mutual pleasure. And from a counselor viewpoint, God does not want us consumed with guilt for our sin. That’s why we have Jesus. That’s why our confessed sin is as far as the east is from the west. As far as Disney, they are certainly not a Christian company and the suggestion to look within to make decisions is just further diversion to the place we should be looking which is God’s word and His example only. Please know that I love y’all and care for your family, but I lovingly disagree with this viewpoint.

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