The doctrine of original (or universal) sin says people are born with a tainted or sinful nature. Meaning there is some propensity for evil within us, or that we are born separated from God due to the sins of the first humans.
This conclusion is draw from the creation narratives in Genesis. For centuries we’ve focused upon the way Adam and Eve were punished for eating the forbidden fruit, and surmised that their disobedience corrupted human nature.
What we miss, is that Adam and Eve are told of the descriptive effects of their disobedience, but they are also clothed by God once God realizes they feel shame at being naked.
In short, we miss that grace is present. The first humans make a mistake, experience the consequences and are given grace. What this story doesn’t do is disclose a universal sin or permanent corruption that is transmitted from generation to generation.
If you spend anytime watching the news, you might be easily convinced of humanity’s inherent corruption. However, if we pay attention, we also find evidence of humanity’s goodness. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life around small children and while toddlers are known for misbehaving, they’re also great at sharing. While tantrums are common, so are hugs and kisses.
While “No” is the favorite word of nearly every two-year-old, they are also often heard saying “I love you”. This focus on a propensity to do bad only speaks to part of our nature and it completely ignores the part of ourselves that is prone to do wonderful things.
We look at every senseless killing as evidence that humanity is flawed yet we don’t assume every heroic act is evidence that humanity is inherently good. We’re ignoring the beauty in human nature in order to perpetuate and explain the terrible in a simplistic manner. This is a great disservice to everyone.
Moreover if we raise people to believe that they are inherently flawed, what are we teaching people about their worth and value? The doctrine of original sin plays right into the hands of our own modern beliefs about shame and guilt.
Brene Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and unworthy of love and belonging”.
Isn’t this what original sin teaches us?
We are flawed and unworthy of God’s grace. Even if we believe Jesus died for our sins because he loved us, how flawed must we be if God’s own son had to be murdered before we could be restored? The central premise of original sin lays the foundation for an existence filled with shame.
Shame, once it takes root, permeates the entirety of our beings. It affects our passion, desire, intimacy and ultimately our sexuality.
One of the ways, though certainly not the only way, that our sexuality is experienced is through our physical bodies. Thanks in part to the Apostle Paul, much of Western Christianity teaches that our physical self or body is part of the sinful nature which works in contrast with our spirit.
Galatians 5:17 for instance, says in part “what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other”.
Therefore the attitudes and actions that are most closely associated with the body, such as our sex drive, are seen as vehicles for sin except in very specific circumstances. This has caused people to feel ashamed about the ways in which they experience eroticism and sexual desire.
The shame has affected people so deeply that it has led to depression and unfortunately even suicide.
Another affect of sexual shame is that it changes the way we view sexuality in our relationships. Rather than understanding our sexuality as a byproduct of the goodness of God, we view it as something to be kept secret, taboo or immoral. Shame is a powerful barrier to intimacy. It’s time we liberate ourselves from both original sin and the shame it cultivates and recover our sexuailty in all of its goodness.
This can open to us the fullness of divine erotic expression in which sexual activities such as intercourse or masturbation move from the realm of the profane into the realm of the holy.
Masturbation is the act of pleasuring yourself and engaging your own sexual response and desire in a way that is meaningful to you personally.
It typically brings feelings of excitement, joy and relaxation. If you are engaging yourself and thus connecting with different parts of yourself then you are also connecting more deeply and differently with the divine.
Whereas masturbation is about celebrating the divine within yourself, sexual intercourse is about experiencing the unique expression of the divine that is manifested when two or more people come together through their eroticism.
The act of sex becomes a mode of experiencing the divine within while honoring the divine in others. If you engage in a one-night stand, you can still experience the power of divine union.
If you have sex in order to get pregnant, you’re actively trying to participate in the creative process which is divine work. As long as sexual intercourse is conducted between two or more consenting adults, it provides the possibility of union, deep connection and creation. It is therefore good and holy.
If we focus less time on teaching children they shouldn’t have sex and more time teaching them what sex can mean if and when they’re ready to engage in such an important and holy activity, I think we might literally change the world.
Ultimately, by replacing the doctrine of original sin with the doctrine of original goodness, we can liberate ourselves from the shame that plagues our self-image and sexuality. This is a holy responsibility that requires great care.
If we can begin to do the work, we can liberate ourselves, live more freely into the purposes that God has for us and heal not only our wounds, but the wounds of the world.