The following are some religious thoughts on original sin and original good.
I don't have a huge problem believing in original sin, which is the idea that all people are imperfect and make mistakes. But I have a huge problem with original sin if we don't also include original good.
People do so many wonderful things for each other. We sacrifice immediate, simple gratification for a longer, more rewarding goals. We are community-oriented creatures who work together for good all the time.
So I can understand original sin, which could coexist with original good, but I cannot understand the doctrine of "total depravity", the idea that man is unable to do good by his nature.
The Calvinist idea of total depravity would say that we are unable to do anything unselfish by our natures, and that we must, through Christ, take on the nature of God in order to be selfless at all. I think this is a confusing way to view things, because ultimately everything we do is for ourselves. For instance, if God commands something resembling "selflessness", why would we do it if it were of no benefit to us? Surely there is selfishness of a different variety still at work?
The Buddhist understanding is that people act evilly out of ignorance. People think they are doing themselves a favor, but really they are hurting themselves by not taking, what is commonly called, the more "selfless" road. Compassion is what brings happiness, and compassion is the identification of the self with others. When we identify others with ourselves, we are part of a community and working for the best for ourselves takes on a more enlightened meaning. But we're still working for ourselves, just not in a separate sense.
When faced with a moral dilemma - do I share the cookies or eat them all? - I have different desires that are in competition with each other. If my appetite says "eat them all!", should I consider myself evil? Certainly not. My appetite is just that, a hunger response to food. It's a good thing. It keeps me alive. But then I have a competing desire to take care of others, to share. And this desire is for community, to broaden my sense of self to include others. An enlightened moral choice will get me more bang for my buck. Belonging to the community, embodying compassion and identification with others, is more valuable than indulging my simple appetite which knows little of the circumstances at hand.
But of course, many time, ignorance - or a lack of mindfulness - rules the day. We are certainly not perfect. We make short-sighted choices that lead to suffering, for ourselves and others. But we also make wonderful, enlightened choices which inspire us all and give our lives meaning. And we do it all the time!
So anyway, back to original sin. I have seen two Evangelical evangelists use the following formula fairly recently:
"Have you ever told a lie?
What does that make you?
That's right. You're a liar."
Then the conversation proceeds to the idea that sin means we deserve separation from God. We deserve punishment - and not the corrective, rehabilitating kind, but the eternal, death-of-all-hope kind - in order to preserve God's "justice."
But what about the flip-side of the conversation?
"Have you ever told the truth?
Yeah.....the overwhelming majority of the time actually.
Then what does that make you?
That's right. A truth-teller."
So we may have original sin, but we also have original good. All those apocalyptic verses in Revelation, and elsewhere, about liars being punished eternally, don't include the fact that not only did these people tell lies, steal things and commit infidelity, they also helped people. They worked hard to provide for their kids. They gave to charity. They helped friends who were in trouble. They got up in the middle of the night to soothe a frightened child. They told the truth countless times, even when it was difficult.
And if all good things have their origin in God, does this mean that the original good is also in Hell? Part of God is in Hell? Or does it mean that the bad parts of us all are burned away and the good bits of us all, the parts that are really us, that we really value, will be preserved?
One need not be a religious person to see how the deep feelings behind these different positions manifest themselves in us all. And I should definitely say that there are myriad different Christian positions that I find very inspiring and fulfill our highest ideals. I am focusing on a brand of evangelical Christianity here that I have problems with.
And I have another reason for believing in original good.