Sin, Salvation, and All That: Traditional Doctrines Reconsidered

Traditional Doctrines Reconsidered.

If our common sense does not allow us to believe that God goes “zap,” or that Jesus is divine — what do we do with traditional doctrines?  It depends.  Some fit well with our understanding of Christian faith; some are unnecessary, and some are even harmful.

Reconstruction: Sin and Salvation (Chapter 14)

Sin:  We cannot abandon this word, with its important connotation that there is a right and a wrong, and to do the wrong harms you and harms your relationship with God.  How we act does make a difference.  We may be uncomfortable with such “strong” language, but we avoid it only at great risk.

Original Sin, however, is something altogether different.  On the one hand, the fact that humans are capable of great evils — and also of great good — is an important religious insight.

On the other hand, “original sin” can also mean that all humans are born with a tendency to sin, that we are therefore guilty before God and deserving of damnation, and so unworthy that God cannot love us or forgive us until someone without sin dies in our stead.

This blasphemous idea of God has so many unchristian implications, and stands in such contradiction to all that Jesus taught and lived, that it needs to be tossed onto the theological garbage heap.

Salvation:  Is not this the central tenet of our Christian faith, that Jesus came for our salvation?  But to the extent it means salvation from sin in this life, we might better speak of living faithfully, of opting for the good instead of salvation from the bad.  You can’t escape bondage to sin and only then choose the good.  (And to the extent this means salvation for the next life — this too often brings back the idea of original sin.)

Reconstruction: Christian Myth (Chapter 15)

There are many stories in the Gospels, and many traditional beliefs, that we cannot believe as literally true.  But if we recognize that these are not factually true, and if they can still exemplify Christian themes or ideals, then they can serve as Christian myths.

For example, the Christmas myth of the virgin birth, the angelic chorus, the shepherds, and the wisemen all help us to celebrate the importance that Jesus has in our lives.  His birth as an outcast in a stable, and the announcement to the poor and humble shepherds, point to a different kind of “king,” with a message that transcends worldly power.  But if taken literally, these stories distract from the message of Jesus, and put glory and “kingship” in a story where they do not belong; and these stories can even become stumbling blocks to some, who cannot accept such stories as literally true.

What about Jesus’ miracles, and his prophecies, and the atonement, the magical elements of the resurrection, and the Trinity?  It depends.  You’ll have to read this chapter.

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