I would like to entertain the notion that a secularized conception of original sin is plausible, and that believing it might have good effects.
.. In trying to make the world an excellent place for human beings to live by developing and applying ingenious technologies, for example, we may wind up rendering it uninhabitable. Or in trying to keep ourselves safe and secure by stockpiling defensive weaponry, we may annihilate life on earth. There’s really no need for God’s punishment when you’re making your own hellfire.
.. As Paul told the Romans .. , “I do not know what it is that I accomplish” and “what I wish, this I do not do; instead, what I hate, this I do.”
.. There is some level of self-scrutiny too merciless for most of us, some inner corridor too dark. We are mystified, or purport to be, by mass shooters, for example. What could possibly motivate a person to want to kill — everyone? What could turn them so against their own species? I suggest that to answer a question like that we must look within ourselves — at our own violent fantasies, the ways we hate or negate the world, our moments of imagined annihilation of people we fancy to be our enemies, our feeling at times that we are being arbitrarily persecuted or misunderstood.
.. This insight is not the exclusive province of Christian theology. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I have within me the capacity for every crime.”
.. We may regard a shooter — or a racist, a sexual predator, an addict or someone who commits suicide (as de Cleyre herself tried to do at least once) — as alien. This reinforces, to ourselves and others, our sense of our own sanity and goodness;
.. The doctrine of original sin — in religious or secular versions — is an expression of humility, an expression of a resolution to face our own imperfections.
.. There is much to affirm in our damaged selves and in our damaged lives, even a sort of dignity and beauty we share in our imperfect awareness of our own imperfection, and our halting attempts to face it, and ourselves.