The whole broken people/original sin thing is kind of big deal to Christians, conservative and progressive alike. They tend to look at in different ways, though. For those of a more conservative bent, original sin and the brokenness of humanity is a given. It’s one of those absolute truths some folks like to talk about: it just is and that’s pretty much that. For progressives, it seems to be just the opposite. More than once, I’ve seen the subject broached in progressive discussion groups and it is always soundly rejected. But, for all my progressive leanings, this is one place I tend to agree with conservatives.
I realize that statement may be a little surprising and it does require a little qualification; on the original sin question, if nothing else. For the record, I do not believe that we are all bound to sin because some dumb ass ate a piece of fruit that was expressly forbidden to him. But, the phrase, “original sin” can be a useful metaphor when explaining how things in this world got so fucked up. Hugh Hollowell defines it this way: God created a perfect world and we screwed things up by not following God’s plan. Not only is that easier to say/write than the longer explanation, it has the added appeal of being understood by a large swath of the population.
My uncharacteristic agreement with conservatives centers more on the “broken” part of the equation. I used to believe that we are not “broken”, but that we live broken world and that causes us to do broken things. Not anymore; these days, I subscribe to the Will Campbell school of thought. Campbell, when asked to describe the Gospel in 10 words or less, said “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway”. While I wonder on a regular basis why God loves us, I have no problem believing that we’re all bastards. Why? Because I am faced with incontrovertible evidence that people are miserable mother-fuckers, that’s why.
You don’t have to look far to this evidence. The past year provides a litany of people’s shitty behavior towards each other. And, this year isn’t shaping up to be much better, what with the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Boko Haram massacre, the attempted fire bombing of Colorado Springs NAACP offices, etc. There’s further proof of humanity’s shittiness in the fact that we’ve been inundated with news coverage of the murder of a few European (i.e. white) cartoonists while the deaths of Africans and mayhem against the NAACP (i.e. not white) have been practically ignored. Nice, huh?
As much as we might hate to admit it, I think we have to face up to the fact that we are broken. If we weren’t, people who, when faced with the hard situation of doing the right thing, consistently say “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, wouldn’t be so goddamned rare. Sadly, you can count these individuals on one hand: Jesus, Gandhi, MLK and a couple of others.
But, it’s not all bad because, and this is going to sound odd, I also believe that people have the capacity for immense good. That there is a little piece of the divine floating around in each of us and somehow, someway it fights its way through all the shit in our beings and occassionally shows us just how good we can actually be. Sort of a cross between the Quaker’s inner light and the concept of prevenient grace. If only it would fight its way to the surface a little more often. That’s not too much to ask, is it?