Among Christianity’s many odd doctrines is the notion of original sin. The details vary from denomination to denomination, but a common view is that all humans are born into a state of sin because Adam succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden, and that this state of sin makes us worthy of God’s eternal condemnation. Only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us.
Here’s how the Catholic Catechism describes it:
How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”.293 By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.
This raises an obvious question of fairness. Why should all humans suffer and be damned eternally because of the act of their ancestor, Adam?
In a recent UD comment, Vincent Torley offered a defense:
To answer your silliest questions first: under the tribal scenario that I was envisaging, all human beings then living would have assented to Adam’s decision. Of course, if there really was an original couple then that makes things a lot simpler. The exact nature of Adam’s sin has been debated for centuries, but on one sensible interpretation, the sin wasn’t simply learning the difference between good and evil; rather, Adam wanted to create his own moral standards and define good and evil on his own terms. In so doing, he deliberately eschewed the Divine protection that had preserved the human race from suffering and pain and made a declaration of human independence, telling God to nick off. Bad move. God reluctantly took him at his word and withdrew His special protection, leaving the entire human race vulnerable to starvation, predation and disease. That may sound unfair on future generations, who had nothing to do with Adam’s fateful decision, but to me it seems obvious that you can’t have half the human race running around enjoying supernatural protection from death and suffering while the other half is suffering from raging toothaches and dying off at the age of 30. We’re all one race, and whatever happens to us, we’re all in this together.
I’m always disappointed when Vincent writes something like this because he’s smart enough to know better. Why is it “obvious” that God can’t treat people unequally? He already does it, and he’s certainly going to do it when he “separates the wheat from the chaff” at the time of the final judgment.
So let me throw the question out to Christians generally: Is the unfairness real or only apparent? How do you reconcile it with God’s goodness?
And why should we inherit Adam’s sin, anyway?