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Original Sin, the Decoder of Human Nature

The cultural landscape provides many challenges that require clear thinking and compassion. A correct understanding of original sin will help

The cultural landscape provides us with many challenges that require clear thinking and compassion. A correct understanding of original sin—and its effects—is necessary to distinguish between normal and abnormal. The misunderstanding of the nature of the sin of Adam damages our spiritual and moral lives and distorts public policy.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God in response to the devil’s temptation: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The devil persuaded our first parents to eat the forbidden fruit with the promise they would be in charge (“knowing” in biblical language) of defining good and evil. Original sin—an act of sinful pride—brought us suffering and death. We inherit original sin at conception. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Like a DNA pathology, concupiscence inclines us to evil, and we commit many more sins.

Chesterton said, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” Denying original sin normalizes deviations. Rather than measuring our behavior against God’s law, we gauge it against ever-changing cultural expectations. As “gods,” we—not God—determine the precepts of good and evil.

The professed doctrinal foundation of our morality has shifted. The cultural “celebration of diversity” extols moral relativism and rejects the centrality of the Ten Commandments. “Equity” does not mean “equal dignity before God.” It means equality of outcomes and violates logic and common sense on every level (intelligence, athletic abilities, etc.). The demand for equity is a rhetorical weapon of perpetual grievance with impossible goals.

The doctrine of “inclusion” camouflages moral relativism. Churches and communities displaying the rainbow flag with the sign “all are welcome” send a clear message: those who oppose sinful lifestyles are “judgmental” and “hateful” and, indeed, unwelcome.

As we abandon the Catholic theological vocabulary, we use “inclusion” to adopt the politically correct demands of the culture, hoping to avoid social and career marginalization. (A man pretending as a woman continues to win female swimming championships, chalking up more pyrrhic victories for diversity, equity, and inclusion.) It’s a fool’s errand. Forcing our tortuous interpretations of the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” slogan to comply with Christian teaching is naïve and self-deceptive or, at worst, complicit with a culture that denies original sin.

The inability or refusal to recognize abnormal behavior ruins lives. Those suffering from moral abnormalities are often blind to the nature of their afflictions and look for other sources to explain their discontent. Demanding affirmation rather than honesty, those who refuse to enter the fantasy world of abnormality are “judgmental” and “hateful” enemies. Celebrating abnormal behavior reinforces unhappiness and strife.

Avoid clergy, educators, and therapists if “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are among their operating principles. Affirm the dignity of the person, but never the abnormality.

While secularism denies original sin, the traditional Protestant view overestimates its destructive power, obstructing conversion and undermining compassionate therapy. Martin Luther taught that original sin obliterates human nature. We are a “dung heap” in need of God’s grace that covers our decay like snow. Unable to perfect ourselves in lives of virtue, the gradual transformation of a troubled soul to moral normalcy is impossible, adding to the confusion and suffering. Competent and morally orthodox Protestant therapists would do well to reject the dung heap doctrine. As a practical matter, they probably do.

The Catholic view of original sin and the Incarnation provides the most realistic perspective of our humanity. God is the master of human nature, life, and death. Laws that coincide with his laws form the foundation of a good culture. Original Sin and our personal sins deviate from God’s law, and the consequent abnormalities highlight the normal by contrast.

Original sin severely wounded us, but it did not destroy human nature; human nature remains a crippled part of God’s good creation in need of a cure. We need a redeemer to save us from our sins and God’s grace to heal the effects of sin. The Incarnation reconciles God and man, and the cross and the Resurrection redeem us. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension continues our restoration. Our lifelong encounters with Jesus heal our sinful abnormalities. The healing miracles of Jesus provide metaphors for our spiritual lives.

Incorporated into the mystical body of Christ by baptism, the Eucharist, and confirmation, we begin a lifetime of healing in Jesus. The Catholic vision of human nature allows us to examine faults and sins in a new light. Original sin distorts human nature and, without grace, provokes and sustains moral abnormalities. The gospel sheds light on the authentic meaning of human dignity and directs us back to God.

Many are afflicted with significant moral disorders related to harmful cultural influences, family difficulties, or old-fashioned sinful inclinations rooted in original sin. The Catholic understanding of original sin and redemption encourages compassion, patience, and honesty—as we hold fast to God’s law and the meaning of “normal.” The life of Jesus—assisted by the competence of mental health professionals—provides us with a practical template for truthful and compassionate Catholic “therapy.”

The Easter liturgy proclaims original sin as the paradoxical “happy fault” that helps us recognize normal incarnate: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a redeemer!” Rediscover original sin, and rescue our dignity in truth, justice, and the way of Jesus.


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