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How Much Do Christians Love Sin?

Posted by on January 30, 2013

They can’t talk about it enough.  Preachers shout about it when they are short on sermon material, bloggers like the one below fill screens with it and folks in the pews worry about it.

That humans are born sinners is unique to Christianity. The idea is brilliant because the only way one can fix this problem is to join the club.

One of the greatest insights into the “American mind” was provided by the late, Eric Hoffer.  Hoffer was an illiterate longshoreman until he taught himself to read and write. Then he began putting his observations about people down on paper.  His books were used in college Sociology courses.

He told of an experience in the 1930’s depression.  He was standing on a street in San Francisco when a truck with a guy on a bull horn came along.  Men were invited to get on the truck and make some money.

Hoffer got on board and they went into the mountains.  I’ve forgotten the task, maybe it was clearing timber, but they found no one was in charge. They got off the truck and looked at each other.  It was amazing, he wrote, that in a short period of time they organized themselves into a crew and proceeded to do the job.

Hoffer concluded man is basically good, capable and reasonable. If he is right, and there is no reason to believe he is not, the whole of Christianity is bankrupt.

Like Hoffer, I think humans are born good.

24 Responses to How Much Do Christians Love Sin?

  1. J. Shane Mercer

    Couple of comments and a question.

    I would argue that one of the strengths of Christianity is that it can take a well-rounded view of humanity. It holds that humans are made in the image of God and therefore have this spark of the Divine within them. But that image of the divine is marred by a spiritual/moral flaw (i.e. humanity is fallen.) So the Christian can affirm that humanity is wicked (hence all the evil and selfishness committed by humans) but also with a core of goodness (the conscience and the spark of God). So to say that humanity is wicked, the Christian doesn’t need to say that humanity utterly without moral bearing and goodness.

    Because of that touch of the divine, Christians can affirm that humans are valuable and infinitely so. But here there is a great problem for the nontheist. The nontheist, if honest about the thing, must affirm that humans are of no real value. They are simply accidental biochemical machines. They are of no more value (in any objective sense) than rocks, trees or other animals. They are simply stuff. Love must be reduced to simple chemicals — a means to the end of cold, mechanical survival so that the machine may pass on its genes. For the nontheist, this is all the love between a husband and wife is. This is all that the love of parent for child is. Of course, for the Christian theist, love in it’s various forms is the reflection of the infinite love of a Creator God.

    If things like love and humans themselves have little to no real value, then it seems that all the questions of how people ought to be treated are of little concern. And, if such things are without value, why indeed should we pursue truth? We pursue truth because we believe it to be good and for the good of humanity. But if nontheism is right, humanity is of no particular value. Why then pursue this thing called truth.

    These sorts of considerations seem to me to render atheism/nontheism self-destructive and anti-rational. That is, if the nontheist is right, her/his presuppositions undercut the very reasons for pursing truth and morals.

    If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for working through such a long comment. I leave you with a question. You write: “I think humans are born good.” How would you define “good”?


    • entech

      Because of that touch of the divine(a), Christians can affirm that humans are valuable and infinitely so(b). But here there is a great problem for the nontheist. The nontheist, if honest about the thing, must affirm that humans are of no real value(c). They are simply accidental biochemical machines. They are of no more value (in any objective sense) than rocks, trees or other animals. They are simply stuff. Love must be reduced to simple chemicals — a means to the end of cold, mechanical survival so that the machine may pass on its genes. For the nontheist, this is all the love between a husband and wife is. This is all that the love of parent for child is(d). Of course, for the Christian theist, love in it’s various forms is the reflection of the infinite love of a Creator God.

      (a): The touch of the divine, yet born in sin? The creator hypothesis can be neither proved or disproved, to extend the concept to a special creation with humanity at its hub. Humans created in the image of the creator, created in such a way that the first act while innocent, not knowing right from wrong, is to talk to a snake eat some forbidden fruit. Not until they have eaten the fruit did they know that it was wrong! The best argument for this scenario is that it is so incredibly unlikely that it must be true.

      (b): Humans are infinitely valuable, valuable to whom? To the creator, the creator who throws them into temptation before they had the experience or knowledge to even know what temptation was, the tyrant that says “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” The tyrant who expects total obedience from creatures that do not know the meaning of the word, just a simple gardener whose sole purpose was to look after the garden. So infinitely valuable that the unknowing act of an innocent can cause a just creator to condemn all of humanity for eternity.

      (c): A little question begging going on here perhaps? A very familiar use of the imperative “MUST”, why, because you say so? Follow this with “if honest”. OK, if I am honest then I must agree with Shane that I am a worthless. That only he and others that believe they are something special are special :? . As the creator can be neither shown to exist nor shown to be absent, then you “if you are honest must agree” that the only justification for it being so is that it makes you feel good and important.

      (d): If you honestly believe that love is pure mechanics and all that that entails and that you need God to know what love is then I am full of sympathy for your narrow view of man, special only as a reflection of a creator (a creator that has condemned him to eternal damnation). I do not think any of the derogatory things you say about non-believers is true, man is special, special in the sense that as far as we know man is the high point of evolution, the only being capable of asking the questions that you try answer in the most egocentric way possible. We must admit that we can claim the pinnacle only because we have seen no other candidates, the universe is so big and complex that there is so much we do not know. The only thing that I do know is that I belong to the only set of creatures that can look out and the universe, that can look in on itself and ask questions about it all and the relationships.

      There are other possibilities with supernatural aspects apart from that of the “Christian Theist”, “Jewish and Islamic Theists”, “Hindu Polytheists”, “Animist Theists” – anthropology is full of stories of creation and mans part in it or of it. You seem to think that any search for meaning, for truth and understanding, for morality is futile because you already know because of your God.

    • Jon Lindgren

      Shane 5:10 Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. I always appreciate your posts.

      As my belief humans are born good–there is no evidence whatsoever they are born bad. Small children mostly try to please. They do not need a super natural being to forgive them of “sins”. There is abosolutely no evidence those who early on reject religion are worse citizens than those who adopt it.

      As to you long trail of reasoning that starts with humans being a product of the natural environment, therefore no different than stones, “These sort of considerations seem to me to render atheism/nontheism self-destructive and anti-rational”, we need to look at the human experience.

      I would argue, “if honest” (your phrase), the human and ego centered view of the faithful is the self-destructive and anti-rational. We find prisons full of self identified Christians, a large part of the faith not concerned about environmental issues, practicing demonization of groups within society and the regard of women as lesser to men. There is no rational justification of these attitudes.

  2. Michael Ross

    ” It was amazing, he wrote, that in a short period of time they organized themselves into a crew and proceeded to do the job.”

    So what does that prove? That some men got a job done. How does that prove that humans are born good, and that “the whole of Christianity is bankrupt”? What if they would have thrown their hands up in the air and went home. Would that prove men are born evil ? Before the advent of Christianity there was one slave empire after another. Thing got done, great monuments and other marvels were built, not by personal initiative but by a whip laid on your back. Christianity began to free personal initiative, ingenuity, and creativity so that what has been produce benefits for all and not just the ruling class.

    • Grandma

      One should remember that AFTER Christianity “there was one slave empire after another…” and it lasted in our nation until the Civil War.

  3. Richard Peterson

    If you accept the creation story in Genesis, the humans, created in the image of God, had no sense of Good and Evil until the serpent got them to eat the fruit God had banned. Clearly, God is ammoral, having no sense of Good and Evil. And no one to send Him to Hell if He is bad.

    As a nontheist, I don’t feel obligated to see humans as having no value. Unlike a rock, we can make choices. And we can ask “Why?” and consider consequences. We have the quality of empathy, in varying degrees. And we judge an individual who seems to be very deficient in empathy to be a monster, less than human. But that may be the result of brain structure, lacking “mirror neurons.” Although it is possible to condition people to have less empathy; that is part of military training.

    • Jon Lindgren

      Richard 11:09 Thank you for the first time post. A well constructed piece of writing.

    • Henry

      RP: “Clearly, God is ammoral, having no sense of Good and Evil.”

      Based on Adam and Eve having no sense of Good and Evil? Because Adam and Eve were given little law does not mean God had no law (ammoral). That is quite a leap.

      • entech

        Henry, you are taking it all too seriously, put it all together, it probably never happened.

  4. Mac

    A few months ago I went to a funeral at a very fundamentalist church. The sermon talked about fornication, greed, gambling and so forth. The guest of honor was a lovely woman well into her 80’s who didn’t even belong to the church. Her son and his family did, and they refused to host her funeral in her home church a few blocks away.

    The church members were worked into a near frenzy after the sermon. One congratulatory comment after another toward the preacher and a buzz in the fellowship hall discussing his wonderful message.

    The only thing I could think of was an abusive relationship situation, where the abused one’s identity is so derived by her abuser, that she keeps returning for more because it’s the only identity she has. If she were to put her foot down and say enough, she would all but disappear, because that which defined her would be gone.

    Then there’s the identity crafted by overcoming sin and gaining satisfaction and identity by being superior to other sinners.

    • T

      Mac 11:44 “The sermon talked about fornication, greed, gambling and so forth.”

      They discussed this at a funeral?!?! The word “inappropriate” does not begin to describe…

      • Mac

        T it was shocking. Of course everyone there knew me, and I truly feared what he was going to say about gay people, then people would have been looking for how I’d react. People in my real world know I’m comfortable sharing my point of view.

        What should have been a time of sharing and comfort; honoring the memory of this lady who brought nothing but kindness and goodness to the world turned into a hellfire and brimstone show.

        Another of the shocked guests told me she knows it’s customary for this type of preacher to pull out all the stops and try to turn people from their evil ways when they have a new audience.

    • Jon Lindgren

      Mac 11:44 re: funeral Talk about self-centered relatives, cannot allow the lady’s funeral to be in her own church.

    • Jinx

      Mac, the abuser analogy is absolutely brilliant and I do believe you hit the religion nail squarely on the head and drove it deep into the timber!

  5. Michael Ross

    “Like Hoffer, I think humans are born good.”

    I don’t think so Jon. A quick look at history and I would conclude that the burdon of proof is on you.

    • Jon Lindgren

      Michael 4:19 “…that burden of proof is on you.”

      Certainly there are bad people. But, the idea of babies being bad was introduced by Christianity to justify the requirement people join the club. If the Bible had said, “There are several ways to overcome the born-a-sinner problem, ours is just one of them,” the notion might have some credibility. As it is, it’s simply blackmail. I’d advise you not fall for it.

  6. buzz marick

    From conception on, instinct pretty much rules behavior. Survival demands nurturing behavior tempered by love soon after selfish and selfcentered behavior and ego kick in, parents give up and send them to schools and authorities to be fixed. Then parents decide they should have stay single or their parents didn’t raise them right and maybe I was a boy born with a girls body or vice versa. Ya, just can’t win and now Jon says there is no God . I am glad I know the truth.

    • Jon Lindgren

      buzz 7:29 “ Jon says there is no God.”

      I’ve said there is no evidence of a god. In this blog, I pointed out there is no reason to believe babies are born sinners. The notions there are gods and sins were all writen by ancient people who were trying to control others. By thinking for ourselves and through trial and error, we develop our own societal rules. Those promoting myths then say the rules came from somewhere else, like a god and the Ten Commandments, when they were actually devised by man.

  7. Mac

    I wrote a post a couple years ago about what appeared to be a Muslim toddler playing with what most certainly had to be some Scandinavian born toddler in an airport lounge. They were having a grand time.

    They had not yet learned they were to be uncomfortable with each other. Generally speaking, I think humans are social creatures inclined to be decent toward one another.

  8. buzz marick

    Jon: 11:04 I didn’t discover my God until I was 60 years old, 11 years ago, . I have the opinion that the Force that works with and for me is immencely tailored to me and is triggered by humility, trust and Love. I am just beginning to accept life on lifes terms. Each of us have it available if we are honestly seeking it. If I can find it anyone can. Humble Pie eventually get tolerable.

    • Jon Lindgren

      buzz 3:00 “I am just beginning to accept life on life’s terms.”

      I happy for you, buzz, that the faith helps you. I’m equally happy for those others of us who find our lives enriched by the absense of the faith. We can all live well together if we keep from moving into each other’s space.

      I’m referring here to those who insert religion into government with advertising in the public square, Jesus prayers at taxpayer funded meetings and indoctrination of children in public funded schools.

  9. J. Shane Mercer

    Hi all. It sounds as if my phrase “if honest” didn’t come across well. My apologies. I wish I had omitted that or found a phrase implying honesty with the self.

    Jon, thank you for your reply. Couple of re-replies. You write: “there is no evidence whatsoever they are born bad. Small children mostly try to please.” Actually, watching my own and others’ children affirms for me something of this dual nature I mentioned above. Yes, they do often aim to please, but they can also be wildly selfish, physically strike out without a great deal of provocation, be headstrong in disobedience, etc.

    You write: Re: my comment that atheism is self-destructive, I mean as an intellectual system, not as a way of life. That would be a separate debate. My point is more something like this: since atheism must reduce everything to physical matter, it can’t really affirm the transcending, rich value of love, the deep value of humanity and other metaphysical concepts. So it is then irrational for the atheist to advocate for the respect and valuation of human beings since it is inconsistent with a purely naturalistic worldview. If humans are just stuff like other stuff, why take offence if they are treated in this way or that? It’s just chemicals, atoms, etc. Whence the grand value?

    Now, what is interesting to me, is that the atheist still lives as if humanity is valuable. Now I would argue that that makes sense because, while the atheist may intellectually reject the underpinnings of human value, she/he is still a human with that spark of the divine within that compels him/her to act rightly.

    Finally (well, almost), with re: to the evils of Christianity, it would be silly to deny that some have done such things. (Though, certainly we would disagree on some of the specifics of what is cruelty and what is just — i.e. I would certainly condemn the behavior of some in situations that you would regard as benign) But there have also been evils with roots touching atheism as well. But I believe it’s important to ask, upon which system is the respect for human value rational? And I think it’s hard to make that case on a atheistic worldview, even though I do believe that an atheist can have a deep regard for that life. I’m just not sure how they intellectually justify it.

    Now, let me be clear on one point, I am not saying that I should regard the atheist as not being valuable because he/she believes in a system that I don’t think supports the notion of human value. (In other words, my attitude is NOT “Alright, if they aren’t anything but stuff, then I can treat them however I want!”) Quite the contrary: That’s not what I believe about the atheist. I believe that he/she is of infinite value and it is my sacred duty to treat him or her as such.

    (Wow, appearently, i can’t even clear my throat in less than 150 words! Be pardon.)

    • Jon Lindgren

      Shane 2:29 I understand your position a little better now, thanks.

      “Reduce everything to physical matter.”

      I don’t recall ever writing that or hearing an atheist say that. I was wondering if you are quoting someone or something there.

      Certainly, atheists use evidence to support there views, but I’d have to think about your reference to “physical matter”.

      Yes, I’d enjoy coffee with you again.

  10. J. Shane Mercer

    I mean “beg pardon.”

    And, Jon, we should get some coffee sometime and talk about these sorts of things. It’d be a great conversation … I’ll buy :-)

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