Nathan Lents on Original Sin

Not to give away the bombshell of Monday night, but @NLENTS came out with an emphatic endorsement of original sin. I will let him explain his reasoning when he has a moment. :slight_smile:

Unlike most atheists, I can see the appeal of the concept of original sin in the sense that there are events in the past, in this case, evil/atrocious events, in which we personally didn’t participate, but whose legacy we have inherited and become complicit in. I’m talking of course about racism.

The “discovery,” settling, and colonization of North America and, later, the founding of the United States were predicated on the forced removal and genocide of one people and the enslavement and import of another. Those two atrocities are the foundational events of our country. That’s our original sin and we continue to be in deep denial about that, preferring instead to think of the United States as nothing less than a glorious oasis of opportunity and equality which it only ever was for white people, generally speaking (that’s not to dismiss the spectacular success of some non-white immigrants against all odds).

So I refer to this at the original sin of America because none of us alive today were or are slave owners or killers of native Americans (though Trumpism has made it perfectly clear who would have been had they been alive back then). Yet, we all bask in the freedom and abundance of a nation built by people who did exactly that. We must fight against the temptation to deny that our flourishing is a direct result of the unimaginable suffering of millions that was intentionally perpetrated by our ancestors (if not literally, our geopolitical ancestors). Just like original sin, we’ll never fully atone for it, but if we don’t at least try, the guilt is transmitted to us through complicity with evil.

And the parallel continues because the only path toward forgiveness and redemption is through an admission of the truth and the actions of reparation. That’s the equivalent of the “faith and good works” that Catholics teach, or at least taught, as necessary for salvation.

That’s what I mean by original sign - racism and white supremacy. And I have bad news for you, Josh. You don’t have to be white to be complicit. :wink:

Btw, this sounds like a new thread and probably not an appropriate post given how simply being against racism is now seen as “political.”


Abraham Lincoln on the bloody civil war:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”


Wow, exactly that. Lincoln was indeed an insightful gay atheist. :slight_smile:

I should have also said that none of this is my original thinking on the issue. I am parroting without attribution because I don’t know where all I got this position. I know I learned it, not crafted it.


I wonder if this is part of what @jack.collins means by this:

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Well I wouldn’t try to go too far with this or we will lose common ground and start concentrating on differences. For example, my view on the original sin of this country doesn’t involve anything supernatural. The sin of slavery is transmitted to me because the wealth, privilege, and flourishing that I now enjoy was purchased, in part, through the involuntary, unpaid, forced labor, not to mention blood, sweat, and tears of other real human beings. So until we “pay it back,” it will continue to be transmitted. But, unlike original sin, there is nothing supernatural about it, and, also unlike original sin, it could have been reconciled a long time ago, but wasn’t. And it could eventually be reconciled, or diluted beyond recognition through the passage of time, and then would cease to exist altogether. So the parallels only really work in broad strokes.


Of course. I’m just pointing out the similarities. There absolutely are differences. Of course you don’t believe there is anything supernatural here. Ironically, I’m not sure some theologians think original sin, per se, is supernatural either!

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