(I don't read many blogs, but one of the blogs I enjoy dipping into is Building Jerusalem by Stephen Kneale. I find his commentary on where we are at as a society particularly insightful. This week I really enjoyed his article about a bizarre spat on Twitter regarding, of all things, Original Sin. Rather than just linking to it, I asked him if I could repost it in entirety here.)
So, a few days ago, one of the weirder things trending on Twitter was #OriginalSin. It’s not your usual Twitter fare. And when you clicked on that hashtag, one thing became very clear: most people simply do not know what Original Sin is. They neither understood what the doctrine said, nor its implications or the solution to the situation it describes. People on all sides – both its defenders and detractors – largely exhibited a woeful understanding of the doctrine.
It was all kicked off by Katharine Birbalsingh, who said this:
Now, I was going to chat about that a bit. But my pal Dave Williams has done that. He has spoken about the furore and whether Original Sin is a terrible, horrible, medieval doctrine or whether it is just a biblical one that is, actually, alright when we understand it properly. You can read what he said here, or save yourself the time and take a wild guess which way a former church pastor might have fallen on that question. But he helpfully outlines what each side seem to have missed and why the discussion has ended up where it has.
So, instead of landing hard on what Original Sin is and all the deficiencies in the discussion surrounding it on Twitter (I mean, who knew Twitter wouldn’t be theologically credible), I thought I would talk about a different, unrelated matter. One summed up as Katharine Birbalsingh faced the onslaught of those who were deeply offended by her citing an ancient Christian doctrine:
Interestingly, Ms Birbalsingh wasn’t even, really, defending Original Sin. She was, by her own admission, not even using the term in a religious sense. I’m not exactly sure how you do that, but when you listen to what she meant, she was arguing something different to what most people seemed to hear. Agree or disagree if you will, but this is really what she was arguing (in her own words), a secular Original Sin:
Nevertheless, she reiterated both her stance and her evident belief of what the, frankly, demented response to a Christian doctrine that has been around much longer than anybody commenting angrily about it meant for Christian people:
This is just one such example among a host of others on her timeline. As one comment pointed out, and Birbalsingh affirmed:
It is this I want to talk about briefly.
I don’t want to say much, but I do think it pays to highlight. Christianity in the UK – despite our society being built upon it and its teaching – is now mud. Christians are not – and haven’t been for some time – the good guys. We are the baddies.
Many of us, of course, know this already. But I’m not quite sure we fully appreciate just how far things have gone. It has reached a point that a secular, non-Christian headteacher daring to mention a Christian doctrine in any positive way at all is open to castigation. You don’t even need to be a Christian any more, you just need to be sympathetic to anything Christians people believe to be on the end of opprobrium. Even when you articulate that you don’t actually believe what Christians believe, you just think there is a nugget of truth in something they teach, you will be vilified.
Whilst I think the total lack of understanding what Original Sin is speaks to where we’re at as a society, I find it all the more telling when we see secular figures being shot down for daring to even utter a Christian term. It seems the only Christian term permissible in the public square is Jesus Christ and that rarely in a way that Christian people are happy to hear. We will dance around the sensibilities of other religions, but Christ and his followers beliefs should not be tolerated in public. Even to mention their doctrines is anathema. It is, ironically, quite religious in its fanaticism.
My point here is a simple one: this is the level of esteem with which we have to come to terms. We’re not even just bad guys, we are dangerous. To even utter our views in public – even if those ideas have played a key part in creating the society in which we live – is just unacceptable. Whilst Twitter doesn’t speak for everyone – and it really doesn’t – it does speak for some people. It won’t be such a big issue in my community – Muslims and working class people don’t tend to get so het up about this stuff (and Muslims don’t believe in original sin either, but none of them have pilloried us for saying we believe it yet). But for many of us, your community don’t just think you’re a bunch of cranks, they think you are evil people full of hate. They used to think it was mainly directed at anyone who wasn’t both heterosexual and married, but now they think you hate kids too.
Augustine might have won the battle in the church; but Pelagius won society. We are basically good, they aver, and anyone who says otherwise is a hateful bigot. God made me good, I am what I am, therefore whatever I am must be good. It is Pelagianism, pure and simple and the battle Augustine won in the church has set us on a collision course with a society who has firmly rejected Augustinian theology without even realising it. And they hate us and our teaching as a result. Just as Pelagius was put out of the church; the Pelagians may well be moving to put us out of theirs.