I've lived in two worlds.
In America, where I grew up, faith was everywhere. Being a Christian nation, I was raised believing we are all desperate sinners in need of saving. Most Americans are taught this worldview. Teaching leads to believing and beliefs lead to action.
In Australia, where I've lived for the past 30 years, faith is an occasional thing. I asked a state school principal I worked for (as a chaplain) where she got her moral code. She is a multigenerational non-believer. She shrugged and said, "My parents lived a life that was family centred and generous to others. I learned early on that being nice feels better - both now and in the long run - than being mean. And people love people who love people. My partner and I modelled this to our kids. We go beach camping as a family with friends for two weeks every summer. We just love family and friends. Life is better when you love others."
Currently, horrible floods are inundating thousands of square kilometres of Australia. It's still raging. Entire towns have been decimated, some multiple times. Aussies, who believe in community and mateship, flock to the affected areas and work for free - in their hundreds - to clean up and return the broken communities to their feet.
There was one act of looting - a man entered a flooded home and took a TV - and it was reported on the news and the rest of Australia shook their heads in disappointment. There's been no more looting.
Mateship. Community. A fair go. Love for others. If you asked Aussies for a reason as to why they are like this, most wouldn't be able to put it into words. There's a classic Australian film called The Castle in which the husband is always praising his wife and when she says "it came out of a can" or some such rebuttal, he says, "It's how ya do it, Love. It's how ya do it." That is the Aussie Spirit. And that's humanity, I reckon, left alone - without the doctrine of Original Sin tampering with it.
Now, if you took a nation and told their children they were desperate sinners and could never do anything good without God helping them, what would they become like? Well, they might buy lots of guns to protect themselves. They might build family sized bunkers for times of crisis and arm the perimeter to kill the unprepared. They might loot homes and shops when crisis hit to help their own. They might shoot children in their own schools. They'd say, "We're sinners. Hopeless sinners. We have no hope and God has forgotten us."
Look at what the doctrine of "Original Sin" did to Christianity historically. Created to raise income for the building program of the medieval church, penance was profitable. Teaching people they were born in sin and steeped in it until death resulted in people seeking a solution. And they paid because the clergy told them paying was the way to forgiveness.
Soldiers in the Crusades came to their priests and confessed sins they were undoubtedly going to commit. "I'm a lowly sinner, Father. I will kill for the king but along with the killing, there will be the raping and pillaging. I don't want to do these things but you know... It's just too much for a sinner to resist. I'll be raping, no doubt. And burning houses full of children, I'm guessing. So, you'd best forgive those acts. You know father, sometimes people hide in big buildings - like churches - so, you'd better forgive me for burning a church or two. I'm but a sinner! Please forgive me, Father." And the priests did. Forgiveness before sin - permission to rape, pillage, destroy and murder entire villages.
Imagine, if from today forward, the church taught: "You are created in the image of a loving God, and so are your neighbors." How Christlike and loving might we become?
That said, I also do not believe we are able to be sinless. That is the ditch on the other side. "hopeless sinners" on one side and "sinless saints" on the other. And the road in the middle? The road to the Kingdom of God? Jesus.
His answer to the hopeless sinner: "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life!"
His answer to the sinless saint: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."
The road in the middle: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
And there's a promise for people on the road and in both ditches, I believe: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."
A poor doctrine of sin results in a weak doctrine of salvation. And, there is nothing weak about the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus!
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