Monday, September 3, 2012

Original Sin, Tiny, and and the New Millennium

Perfect in Every Way
Baptism, in theory, is about Original Sin. That can of worms is the other reason I love the theology of Baptism - we wrap up all our issues and questions about morality, community, and rituals, insert some cute babies and linen suits and BAM: THEOLOGY HAPPENS.

And it happens to be an area in which our project of re-imagining faith with or without church structures can be particularly fertile.

I didn't get around to talking about Original Sin last week because, frankly, the ceremony has moved away from that kind of language. I read through the prayer book for infant baptism over and again, but I really didn't see the strong language of overcoming sin through cleansing waters or anything like that.

Which was appropriate, since Tiny is perfect in every way, and it's ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

But Baptism is still a major part of the traditional Theology of Sin. The traditional concept (as inherited from Paul through Augustine) is that Adam's sin in Eden is inherited by all people. Only through Baptism and the acceptance of Jesus is that sin forgiven. Thus, traditionally, infant Baptism language has been about asking forgiveness for the infant so that the infant does not go to hell for Adam's sin.

contemporary source
That's ridiculous. But don't throw the baby out with the theology of sin bathwater. This is an area where tons of scholars have been trying to modernize medieval notions. More contemporary sources seek to square a conception of sin with existential angst, the Freudian subconscious, and the context of evil in the world.

Evil is not a medieval notion that we can discard. We do experience hatred and violence and evil today. And its existence continues to make us question our world, even in our new millennium. Evil continues to be a profound truth, even if the notion of babies in hell is no longer credible.
Let's strip that legalism from the idea of sin like we were scraping barnacles off of a boat.  

At it's core, the doctrine of sin is about self-empowering pride that forgets humanity's interdependence and finitude, leading to conflict.

Humans are at once free to set infinite goals of power, wealth, and control, and at the same time trapped in limited bodies, in finite time, and reliant on others in context. The result is anxiety, and temptation towards isolation, estrangement, and self-destructive egotism.

That is the opposite of community building through loving relationships and compassion, which is the goal of  Christianity, and the most profoundly human good.

To reinsert Christian language, "Satan's empty promises" are those of power and control through isolation; God's offer of salvation requires us to reject power and isolation in favor of compassion and community. Baptism allows families to show their mutual dependence, and, by welcoming the infant into the  community, promise that the child will be part of the loving network, too.

I think we can all get behind that message of Baptism. Compassion, networks of loving relationships, are central both to the Christian experience and to the human experience. Moving forward I hope we can remember to keep the baby when we throw out the bathwater.

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