Category Archives: Original Sin

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 7

This post is part of a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.

Moving along regarding Original Sin!

Last time, we talked about the individual nature of Original Sin as the feeling of meaninglessness and loss of the (non-)thing that makes us whole and complete. Even further, this feeling of meaninglessness – if we don’t deal with it directly – drives us to pursue things that will fill the hole we feel. We are driven to pursue anything that will make us feel satisfied, like we have the answer. This includes ‘God’ – particularly the God-product so many churches sell.

This individual notion of sin manifests itself in a communal way.

Rene Girard

Rene Girard

Often, when we feel the sense of lack that I have described, we project unwarranted value onto an object that another person already has. In other words, we covet what the ‘other’ has because we believe the lie that the object they possess actually brings about real satisfaction in their lives (and will do the same in ours). René Girard calls this kind of desire ‘mimetic.’  Mimetic desire is inherently dangerous because, over and over again, it leads to rivalry and violence.

The problem, however, is that violence doesn’t just end with the individuals who are at conflict with each other. The violence that occurs from individual covetousness always leads to increasing levels of (often vengeful) violence. It doesn’t simply stop tit-for-tat (or “eye for an eye,” if you will). Let’s look at a common example (taken from Brian McDonald at Touchstone Magazine):

Picture two young children playing happily on their porch, a pile of toys beside them. The older child pulls a G.I. Joe from the pile and immediately, his younger brother cries out, “No, my toy!”, pushes him out of the way, and grabs it. The older child, who was not very interested in the toy when he picked it up, now conceives a passionate need for it and attempts to wrest it back. Soon a full fight ensues, with the toy forgotten and the two boys busy pummeling each other.

Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-040-i#ixzz2PFYIZJBa

The story above is familiar to us because it is natural to us. It is something we all do or have done. As we can see in the notion of individualistic sin, the desired object isn’t important. That object has no special power, no intrinsic worth. It is only our mimetic desire that causes us to want the object.

Further, as vengeful violence builds due to our desire for completeness and satisfaction, that violence does not stop with the individuals. Those individuals are part of families, tribes, and communities. Let’s say I try to take the object of desire that you possess, and you harm me physically for my actions. I’m not going to try and simply hurt you as badly as you hurt me – I’m going to try and hurt you more. Then, you not only want to cause damage to me, but to my family as well.My family, in turn, desires to inflict damage on the larger community your family might be a part of. This isn’t rocket science. This is something we understand because it is inherent to our very humanity.

So…

So our very existence is bound to the feeling of lack, of meaningless, incompleteness, a sense that we are missing the thing that gives us satisfaction. To compensate for this, we project value onto objects we believe will make us whole, not lacking anything. When that object is possessed by someone else (and it always is), our desire becomes violent. We do whatever we need to do to obtain the object of desire. This violence never stops by itself. Violence always breeds more violence, until the communities in which we are part of destroy themselves from the inside, from the infectious disease we all carry.

However, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we see a move away from vengeance and violence and destructive desire. This is where our need for atonement comes from, and where we will turn next.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 6

Last time in the evolution series, we talked a little about ‘original sin’ and why it’s still important for us to maintain the concept of ‘sin,’ despite the outmoded doctrinal baggage attached to the language.

Before we set out to talk about individual sin, I’d like to say one thing. Although I’m focusing on the two major ways I understand sin to operate in this post and the next, I am by no means saying these are the only ways we can or should understand original sin. This is the best way I’ve learned to describe it for myself, at the moment. I may understand it differently later in life, and others may not agree with my conclusion. The fact is, I find these two understandings of sin most viable right now because they cohere with my own experiences. And despite those who would say it’s improper to allow my experiences to govern my understanding of God and reality, I’m going to argue that we have no choice but to do so. Say all you want that we need to ‘go back to the Bible.’ Regardless of whether we do that or not, our experiences always govern our understanding of reality, and there is no way around that.

the-idolatry-of-god-breaking-our-addiction-to-certainty-and-satisfactionCurrently, a lot of my understanding of ‘original sin’ stems from the writing of Peter Rollins, particularly in The Idolatry of God.

In The Idolatry of God, Pete uses the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to talk about the feeling of ‘separation’ and ‘lack’ that is inherent to the human experience. For Rollins, if we “consider Original Sin in its most literal definition, we can begin to appreciate how it refers to a primal separation… [It is] the feeling of gap that marks us all from the very beginning” (IoG, 19-20). In other words, every single one of us, at some point, feels a sense of lack, meaninglessness, and dissatisfaction. This is a normal part of the human experience.

Rollins explains that this is a commonly observed phenomenon that originates during what Lacan calls the ‘mirror phase’ in early childhood development – particularly between 6 and 18 months after birth. The ‘mirror phase’ is the stage of infancy where the child’s self-consciousness is birthed. Before this stage in development, there is no real sense of ‘I’ or ‘me’ in the child’s consciousness. S/he is totally unaware of a separation between him/herself and the surrounding environment. However, as soon as the child develops a sense of ‘I,’ there is also an immediate understanding of the existence of ‘not I.’ Rollins states, “The sense of selfhood is marked indelibly with the sense of separation” (13).

This sense of separation from something also leads us to the experience of the sense of a ‘loss’ of something. From the very birth of our self-consciousness, we constantly experience dissatisfaction because we feel as if we are ‘missing’ something – something that actually can bring us satisfaction and rid us of our feeling of meaninglessness.

It is this feeling of dissatisfaction, this feeling of loss, that leads all of us, throughout our lives, to look for ways to get rid of that feeling. We use things like money, power, sex, family, and so on to try and fill the gap we feel, yet we find that none of those things ever make us feel fully satisfied. Further, the Church often makes ‘God’ into another one of these products that can fill the gap, placing the divine on the same level as every other object that promises us some kind of certainty or satisfaction.

In short, Rollins says it this way: “We mistakenly feel that we have lost something central to our humanity (Original Sin) and then postulate some object we believe will restore what we have lost, something we believe will bring wholeness and fulfillment to our lives” (27-28). When we ascribe this value to anything (including ‘God’), we have created an Idol out of the object.

Thus, ‘original sin’ is not something that we need to be punished for because of some inherent level of disobedience to God’s will that we have the second we are born. Rather, on an individual level, it is the feeling of separation, anxiety, and lack that is universal to the human experience.

Next, I’ll focus on how this individual sin progresses to systemic/communal sin and – in the following posts – how the atonement addresses these problems.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 5

This is a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.


In my last post, I ended with a question that I think needs to be answered in light of the acceptance of evolution within the paradigm of Christianity: what is sin, how does it affect us, and why is the cross a solution to that problem?

I’d like to address sin specifically in the next couple of posts. As I said before, I don’t think Paul’s writings warrant the view of original sin common to evangelicalism today (I should say at this point that my view of Scripture as non-inerrant does not mean I de-value it or think it worthless. On the contrary, I think it is extremely important and worth our attention. I just prefer to avoid proffering some kind of “paper pope” status to it). It seems to me that Paul, in places like Romans and 1 Corinthians was looking through the lens of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and trying to make sense of the Event that occurred.

In other words, the cross was a solution, but to what? To the universal reality of death, and the universal reality of sin. Paul may have used Adam as an example, but his example does not warrant doctrinal certainty that we should say something like “Adam sinned, thus we are all guilty.” Again, Genesis doesn’t teach this, Judaism (both before and after Christianity) doesn’t teach this, Jesus doesn’t teach this.

What the common, current doctrine of original sin teaches is “Why?” But here’s the thing – I don’t think that’s the point. The point is this: sin, death, hurt, the feeling of meaninglessness, violence… they’re all real. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to define sin, but we don’t need to create a system where one (pre-)historical dude sinned, and because of some weird cosmic justice that God must adhere to, blood is required to atone for Adam’s (and our!) disobedience to God’s commands.

Another unfortunate consequence of thinking about sin this way is the loss of the systemic nature of sin. In other words, the common view of original sin places the spotlight on our individual sinful natures and requires a personal atonement, but can only go that far. This kind of view doesn’t allow us to view the problem of sin/evil as existing in the systems we create, and if it does, it assumes that the problem would be fixed if we all just became a(n) ____________ kind of Christian. Or, if the entirety of humanity just believed the same as us, everything would be alright.

Contrary to this, I’d like to affirm a view of sin that is both individual and systemic/communal. I will not / cannot address why things are the way the are. Personally, I don’t think any of us can; I think we just like to try, because we like certainty, satisfaction, etc. I also don’t think it’s important to try to speculate about how sin came into the picture originally. What I do think is important is to address the fact that sin exists, and move on from there.

In my next post, I’ll address sin as an individual issue, via the Radical Theology of Peter Rollins (though many of you may not agree with my conclusions), and the post after that will address systemic sin via some of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory. Tune in!

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 4

This is part four in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the AtonementTo start at the beginning, click here.


Wow, it’s been a while since I posted last. The break I took from blogging was both intentional and necessary. I began this series on accepting the reality of evolution and theorizing about its effects on the Christian faith, hoping that my writing would spark others to think more critically about their own beliefs, and also that my own thinking would be sharpened on the subject. While I did find that this happened a little bit, I also found that I was being attacked for rejecting some of my previous beliefs. In particular, one of my blog posts, the introduction to this series, was posted on Ken Ham’s (a well-known[?] creationist/speaker) by a family friend. Though I do not think the friend intended for the consequences of her actions, this led to a smattering of public, ignorant criticism by people who do not know me or my family, which could have negatively affected my current occupation, since I work at an Evangelical university that stands on a few of the “truths” I so readily attempt to deconstruct.

All that aside, I’m hoping to get back into a regular blogging schedule, hopefully 2-3 times per week. I will continue exploring these ideas with the help of some writings on the internets and the work of Peter Enns, and hope that I can clarify my own thoughts in my writing and push you, dear reader to do the same.

Last time, I wrote about the direct effect that accepting evolution has on some traditional Evangelical doctrines – particularly inerrancy. In other words, I think it is important to accept evolution as a defining reality of the physical universe, as observations from the last 150 years have proven to continually support evolution as a natural reality. As such (and because I do not think it to be an orthodox Christian belief), I think inerrancy is insufficiently supported and should be rejected by Evangelicals as a core doctrine. I’m not saying biblical authority should be rejected – only the notion that Scripture itself is “inerrant.”

To continue in the series, I think it is necessary to examine the effects of evolution on some of the doctrines Christians hold sacred. And I’d like to begin with the doctrine of Original Sin. 

Generally, the doctrine of Original Sin is defined across the board as humanity’s universal rejection of God’s will. Not only that, but humanity is born with a natural inclination to reject the kind of life God desires for humanity. This happened as a result of Adam’s initial rejection of God’s command in the creation story; Adam sinned as some kind of representative of humanity, thus we are all sinners.

This view is further supported by texts like Romans 5:12-21 (where we have the in/famous “through one man, sin entered the world” bit) and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and 44-49. This is not to mention the fact that Paul probably believed in a literal Adam. He would have had no reason not to. So, if Evangelicals want to ignore the entire paradigm upon which modern biological science is built and attempt to retain an outmoded and unwarranted doctrine like inerrancy, it seems likely that Original Sin as “traditionally understood” can be maintained. If, however, Christians desire a robust theology that can (ahem) handle something like evolution, then we need to rethink Paul’s statements about Adam as the originator of sin.

Paul_the_apostle

Let me be clear here: what I AM saying is that I think we need to reject Paul’s acceptance of Adam as a historical figure and the cause and origin of sin, especially in light of evolution. I’m NOT saying that sin is not a reality, even a universal one. I follow Enns here, where he says we should not focus on the historicity of Adam from Paul’s perspective, but what Paul was trying to say in his letter to the Romans and the Corinthians. In particular, it seems that Paul’s focal point is always the Crucifixion and Resurrection as the solution to a particular problem. This problem, to Paul, is death. Enns says it this way: “Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him, and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [the existence of death] as Adam and his disobedience.”[1]

Further, it’s no secret that the Christian concept of Original Sin is not one that exists in Judaism. Perhaps one veiled reference may exist in Habukkuk 6:7, but most scholars (even Evangelical ones!) not that the “Adam” referred to by the author is meant to be the name of a place, not a person.

To conclude, I’d like to quote Enns one more time. Regardless of Paul’s (faulty, through no fault of his own) view of human origins, three very important elements remain in his theology, despite the acceptance of evolution:

1. The universal and self-evident problem of death

2. The universal and self-evident problem of sin

3. The historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ

To remain within the bounds of orthodoxy, I think one must accept the above three claims. Nonetheless, the question remains: in light of evolution, what is sin, how does it affect us, and why is the cross a solution to that problem?


[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 123.

Evolution, Original Sin, and Atonement (or Why Monkeys Need “Salvation”) – Preface

This post is a preface/intro to a series I’m starting on synthesizing the theory of evolution with Christianity. I plan on writing a post at least once a week on this topic (hopefully more, but we’ll see).

I’m about to graduate with my B.A. in Theological Studies. I basically finished my final assignment this week, which means I have had time to do some reading that I actually want to do. My book list has at least 50 books on it, and that’s just ones I could think of off the top of my head. I was so excited to finally get started this week, and my first choice (since it was at the library) was Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam.

While reading it, I was struck again and again by how much the acceptance of the reality of evolution will truly change a theological system if that system doesn’t allow for anything other than special creation and a historical Adam. The acceptance of the theory of evolution as true (which I do) is a step that takes serious consideration, especially for Evangelicals. (As an aside, I’m guessing the best way to classify myself at the moment is some kind of progressive [little e] evangelical… whatever that means.) Anyway, the point is, most of the Christians I am in contact with are Evangelicals in the strictly fundamental sense – for the most part.

Because of this, my desire is to show those around me that not only is it simply acceptable to accept evolution as true – it’s necessary. It’s especially necessary if the Evangelical community is going to have any kind of credibility with the rest of the world in the future. However, this also means that the Evangelical theological system needs to change dramaticallySpecifically, I think the acceptance of evolution affects two major areas, which I’ll be addressing in the series:

  • Original Sin
  • The Atonement

Of course, these aren’t the only theological areas evolution affects. It will, of course, also affect our understanding of the nature of God’s relationship to the universe, God’s character itself, the very being of God, and so on. However, this series’ focus will be on the two subjects outlined above.

At the outset, I should also mention one other issue. This will probably have some kind of effect on how many of my readers view my understanding of the rest of the posts in this series, but it needs to be said. I do NOT affirm that Scripture is inerrant (and I’m a little iffy on infallibility as well, but I’m not sure that’s relevant). To be clear, I am not saying that I think Scripture is useless or simply another document that is inspired in the same way that Shakespeare or whatever is an “inspired” piece of work.

Rather, I am strictly Neo-Orthodox in my understanding of Scripture. Karl Barth, the father of Neo-Orthodoxy probably spells out my view of Scripture best. He says that Scripture itself is not the Word of God, but the Word is an event, to which Scripture is a witness. And although the “witness is not absolutely identical with that which it witnesses,”[1] it can still be trusted to convey the Word of God in some sense – even while we cannot necessarily trust it to always convey propositional, historical truth.

Peter Rollins takes this idea slightly further, saying,

The idea of the “Word of God” becomes pale and anemic when reduced to the idea of a factual description of historical events. The words of the Bible, wonderful as they often are, must not be allowed to stand in for God’s majestic Word, as if the words and phrases have been conferred with some sacred status and the phonetic patterns given divine power.[2]

All this to say, my view of Scripture may or may not be similar to yours. Nonetheless, approach this series with an open mind, and at least be willing to question some longstanding beliefs you might be holding. You wouldn’t want those to become idolatrous, would you?
DISCLAIMER: My views are not the views of Southwestern Assemblies of God University. I in no way represent the views of the Assemblies of God or SAGU in this particular post or any posts or articles found on this blog.

[1] Karl Barth, “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 463.

[2] Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal: Toward a Church Beyond Belief (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2008), 56.