The idea of original sin has been an important part of the Christian business model from the beginning, and it continues to fuel judgmental fervor with many fundamentalists today. It is based on the story of Adam eating a piece of fruit in the Garden of Eden, God cursing humanity because of it, and Jesus ultimately dying on the cross to settle the score.
Imagine if churches could separate the idea of sin from the story of Adam eating a piece of forbidden fruit. Does sin need to be something that controls us supernaturally, or is it a human condition that can be treated naturally?
How should churches address right from wrong? On these questions, 50% of Evangelical protestants said they believed that what was right and wrong was absolute. Mainline protestants believed it was more situational (with absolutists at only 32%). Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were more absolute with respect to sin, at 57%, and Catholics less absolute, at 30%.(52)
Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(53) But what is the true nature of what people have called sin through the ages? What is the nature of death? Does sin affect life as we live it, or is it only cosmically important after people take their last breaths?
The concept of original sin is a dogmatic belief that is unprovable, has been misused by churches to control others and make money, and does a bad job at explaining why evil exists and how to treat it. Given these factors, the idea of original sin, other than metaphorically, is often unneeded and unhelpful in Christian organizations. Evil can just as easily be explained through examining the unconscious mind. With greater consciousness comes less sin. With less consciousness, we experience greater challenges.
One way to conceptualize sin as unconsciousness through a Christian lens is by examining the ego, dishonesty, and speck-finding.
First, there is the ego: When we are unconscious, sins of the ego are likely to occur, including the mind’s compulsion to think first and foremost about me, my, and mine. The unconsciousness of greed is connected to the ego: the egoic mind always wants more. This selfishness leads to separation, as Paul wrote: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”(54) With greater consciousness comes less egotism.
Second, there is dishonesty: Lying is another sign of unconsciousness. Not only do we lie to others, but we also lie to ourselves. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other.”(55) Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(56) Unfortunately, the unconscious mind loves to generate self-serving stories that often encourage people to prefer believing in lies rather than wanting to admit being wrong. With greater consciousness there is less dishonesty.
Third, there is speck-finding: Judging others is another product of the unconscious mind. When we judge others, we take the focus off our own issues and project our judgments onto others. As Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”(57) Through greater consciousness, we can see more clearly how the unconscious mind generates toxic judgments quickly and often. With more consciousness comes more introspection and curiosity.Thousands of years ago, the unprovable doctrine of original sin may have been a good hypothesis for its time. But today, we can stop seeing human failings as something supernatural and start seeing them as something very natural. Sin is not something to be supernaturally settled for after death but is important to address in life as part of our meditative practices in the present moment. As Jesus said, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”(58)
52. “Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics,” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, September 9, 2020, https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/belief-in-absolute-standards-for-right-and-wrong/
53. Rom. 6:23, NIV
54. Phil. 2:3, NIV
55. Col. 3:9, NIV
56. John 8:32, NIV
57. Matt. 7:3, NIV
58. Luke 17:21, KJV