Friday, February 16, 2024

Why Not Make Human Flourishing- Not Degradation- the Standard?

Human beings are capable of anything great and terrible. Hear the words of the Indian Jesuit, Anthony DeMello: "I am no great improvement on the men who killed the Savior." (1) I once heard Martin Marty suggest that Original Sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christianity. (2) We see it play out every day in murders and mayhem, violence and destruction, and in every harm we perpetrate on others. 

But is the doctrine itself a self-fulfilling prophecy? Further along, if everyone is a sinner- inclining to reject love at every turn, and only randomly-or by God's help- choose the good, why should a more a loving and just world be possible- or even an aspiration? Why expect anyone or any nation to share? Why hope for anything better? Do miserable sinners deserve to flourish?

But if all humanity is created in God's likeness and image, and is very good as created, and further, if the whole creation is good, then everyone and everything fulfills their purpose just by being. Intrinsic worth is the baseline, not the exception. We love because we are capable of both loving God- and others. We are capable of covenant love because God created us. 

Original Sin is normative in Christianity. (2) It's the rule, the standard for sound doctrine. Candidates for ministry preach it before boards and committees, hoping for the passing grade on orthodoxy (right belief). Humanity is condemned, helpless, and deserve whatever it is we get. 

But really, why is degrading humanity so important? For educational purposes, telling people they are sinners is, in practice, mere indoctrination. What if we understood our brokenness as descriptive, exposing the harm we do to each other and the creation? And what if we, by faith, believed in the goodness of creation and the God-likeness of humanity, the norm for belief and practice, teaching and preaching? 

(1) De Mello, Wellsprings, 1986, p. 51
(2) Article VII states, "Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually." The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2016.
(3) Even though the doctrine of the goodness of God, creation and of humankind is implied throughout Scripture, Original Sin as a doctrine, and all creation and humankind as "fallen," is the rule. The invitation of faith, young and old, is to explore the importance and meaning of the doctrine of Creation as primary, not secondary.  


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