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These closely related ideas teach that original sin is passed on by copying the sinful tendencies of other people. The Council of Trent decreed that this idea was false. Many churches accept that infants can be cleansed of original sin by being baptised soon after birth. The other elements required are carried out by adults on the baby's behalf during the ceremony. In St Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote: "Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery".
This conception of Redemption as freedom from bondage is crucial for Judeo-Christian thought. On the face of it, original sin doesn't answer the question as to how evil got into the world; instead it leaves other questions to be answered. As one writer puts it:. Why is there original sin? Because Adam sinned? Then why did Adam sin? If it was because of the serpent, why did the serpent sin? If the serpent is supposed to have been a fallen angel, why did the angel sin? And so on. And there is a second, but related, question.
If evil did not exist before Adam sinned, how could Adam know that what he was about to do was evil - how was he to know that it was wrong to disobey God? For modern people the idea of being punished for a crime committed by someone else is unethical and unacceptable. The doctrine of original sin blames Eve for tempting Adam into sin and has been responsible for centuries of Christian bias against women. Augustine's theory of original sin was so intrinsically tied up with his disapproval of human sexual love that for centuries it contaminated all sexual passion with the idea of sin.
Some Christian thinkers are unhappy with the idea that human beings start out so bad that they can't become good without God's help. Science shows that the Biblical creation story is not literally true, and demonstrates that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden are myths and not historical figures.
This destroys the idea of original sin as being caused by the misbehaviour of the first man and woman, and the idea of inheriting guilt or punishment for that misbehaviour. Most modern theologians don't think this a good reason to abandon the doctrine of the fall. They believe that although the story is not historically true, it does contain important truths about the state of humanity.
The doctrine of original sin is based on the idea that God created a perfect world, and that humanity damaged it and themselves by disobeying him. Evolution, on the other hand, suggests that life in the world is steadily changing and becoming more diverse. Scientists do not tend to think of this as a moral good or evil, but in a sense evolution sees life on earth as moving closer to 'perfection' - becoming better adapted to its environment.
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The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense. A more modern idea is to give an ethical spin to the evolutionary idea and suggest that humanity should not be concerned about a past fall from grace, but concentrate on becoming more ethical beings and thus bringing about a better world.
Bishop Richard Holloway has described the idea that unbaptised babies go to hell as "one of the most unsympathetic of the Christian doctrines," and not greatly improved by the teaching that there is a special "limbo" for unbaptised babies on the outskirts of the inferno. Original sin has been criticised for inspiring excessive feelings of guilt. The 18th-century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.
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Is the feeling of guilt a vital part of our moral lives or can it do more harm than good? One of the biggest problems the Catholic Church faced over the years was the problem of children who died before they were baptised. Before the 13th Century, all unbaptised people, including new born babies who died, would go to Hell, according to the Catholic Church.
This was because original sin had not been cleansed by baptism. This idea however was criticised by Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophiser, who said that babies who had no personal sin didn't even deserve punishment. It was Abelard who introduced the idea of 'Limbo'. The word comes from the Latin 'limbus', meaning the edge. This would be a state of existence where unbaptised babies, and those unfortunate enough to have been born before Jesus, would not experience pain but neither would they experience the Beatific Vision of God.
BBC - Religions - Christianity: Original sin
The idea of Limbo was defined in by Pope Pius X in his catechism. Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory. However, unease remained over reconciling a Loving God with one who sent babies to Limbo and the church still faced much criticism.
The Church, which has never claimed to definitely know who will go to Heaven apart from the Saints , or Hell, has said that the issue has long been one of speculation in the Church. This speculation has led to an oversimplification of the matter, and some people have regarded it as fact when it was never the case. Catholics feel sure that God won't impose punishment on babies who are free from personal guilt, but they do admit they don't know what their afterlife will hold. In April Pope Benedict XVI approved the findings of a report by the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory body, which found grounds that the souls of unbaptised children would go to heaven, thus revising traditional teaching on Limbo.
The report said there were "reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness". Parents were urged to continue to baptise their children, as the Vatican stressed that baptism is still considered necessary to achieve salvation; the report emphasised that "there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible" to baptise them.
St Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, in what is now Algeria, from to He was one of the greatest theologians in history and his ideas still influence Christian thought today. Although he didn't invent the doctrine of original sin, his ideas about it dominated Western Church teaching. Augustine's theory shows great understanding of human psychology. It provides an explanation for human suffering and guilt by teaching that those human beings somehow deserved these things. Human beings deserve to suffer because the first parents sinned. And since humanity deserves the bad things it gets, humanity can comfort itself with the idea that it has a just rather than an unjust God.
This made the presence of evil in the world easier to understand, and answered the question of why a benevolent God would allow such a state of affairs to exist. Augustine thought that humanity was originally perfect "man's nature was created at first faultless and without any sin" , immortal and blessed with many talents, but that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and introduced sin and death to the world. Augustine didn't see any need to provide a good reason why Adam, who had originally been created perfect, chose to sin, or why God hadn't created a perfect being that was incapable of sin.
As far as Augustine was concerned the point was that Adam had sinned and humanity had to deal with the consequences. Modern people would think it unjust that human beings should suffer for something that happened long before they existed, but to people in Augustine's time the idea of punishing later generations for their parents' crimes was familiar.
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