Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Original Sin: What is It?

In the last post, I gave a quick overview of the heart of liberal theology. Now I want to probe the concept of sin a bit further. Modernity is essentially Pelagian and the denial of the Christian (i.e. Augustinian) understanding of sin is at its heart.

Sin in modernity, strictly speaking, does not exist. It is mythical in the sense that unicorns are mythical. It is a fairy tale, not in the exalted Tolkien sense, but in the stripped-down Dawkins sense. It does not exist and need not be taken seriously by adults.

For Christians, sin is the libido dominandi, the lust for dominion, power and control. It is, to put it in modern terms, the will to power and therefore it is intricately bound up with technology and the science that undergirds it. The ability to manipulate the environment, sought by magicans and sorcerers down through the ages, has been grasped by modern, technological science.

For moderns, the individual creates value by an act of his sovereign will. To the extent that modernity has a religion (it is better to say that modernity is a religion), one can say that its religion is the worship of the goddess Liberty. This is a way of saying that freedom is the highest value in modernity and that freedom is basically understood as freedom from constraint: the freedom to do whatever the individual desires to do at any given moment.

Science certainly gives us this kind of freedom. It aids us in being free in the sense of being less and less constrained by repetitive, routine work. As we are set free from daily chores and routine work, we increasingly desire also to be set free from particular roles and duties to others that likewise constrain our freedom.

The only problem is that the more we achieve this negative vision of the isolated individual self, unfettered by work, relationships and duties, the less we know how to fill the empty time. So we turn to hedonism, materialism and entertainment to fill the void that used to be occupied with loved ones, duties and chores. We become increasingly isolated and all sense of purpose evaporates from our lives. In the most "developed" and secular states in the world, the suicide rates are the highest. Shopping and wide screen TV's simply do not provide identity, meaning and purpose for our lives. Is it any wonder that support for euthanasia is gaining ground?

This sense of anomie, this drifting and aimless existence could be termed sloth and it is a sin. More precisely, it is a sinful condition that results in sinful actions - or non-actions. It may seem surprising to a culture used to thinking of sin as the rebellion of the heroic individual who stands up to the establishment and refuses to conform to think of sin as something like clinical depression. But that is modern sin.

Augustine thought that our main problem is not that we desire too ardently, but that our desiring is too weak. Our problem is not that we are great rebels without causes, but that we are bored and boring. We are ripe for manipulation by advertisers and managers.

Modernity is so sure that we are not essentially sinful that it views us as perfectible. I think that the difference between the Augustinian and modern views of man come down to this issue of whether or not we are perfectible. Modern politics fancies itself as a "science" and pursues the perfect society relentlessly. All problems will be solved by experts and the problem of imperfect people will be overcome by the erection of perfect social structures.

Modernity's belief in progress rests on the assumption that science can be applied to human affairs, which is why we have departments in universities called "Political Science." Yet the application of the empirical scientific method to human behaviour results inevitably in the reduction of the human to the physical and the reduction of free will to laws of biology, chemistry and physics. The interaction of bits of matter according to the laws of physics "explain" why we love, laugh, dance, paint, compose, serve, hate and rejoice. Really. So human freedom turns out to be nothing but the apparently (but not really) random interaction of bits of matter! Oddly, this scientific determinism turns out to be a much worse type of falalistic determinism than the most extreme double predistinarian Calvinist ever dreamed of! And we got to this point by pursuing freedom?

It is ironic in the extreme that the worship of liberty should lead to the loss of liberty. For humans to worship liberty leads to humans not being free: this is the lesson of modernity. Liberation from constraints is not the same as true Christian freedom to be all that we were created to be. Truly, we come to resemble that which we worship. Thus, we can say that the modern exaltation of freedom, defined as freedom from constraint, is as good a definition of sin as any. Sin equals the worship of freedom and this is what sin means in modernity.

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