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February 19, 2012

Question: Are people inherently sinful?

 Since the phrase “inherently sinful” seems to be alluding to the Christian doctrine of “original sin,” my answer will address that particular teaching. First, a quick review of the doctrine in its fundamental form which is a clerical interpretation, inter alia, of St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15: 22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Those who accept the doctrine believe that since Adam ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of good and evil, he committed a double offence: disobedience, traditionally interpreted as satisfying sexual lust. The disastrous consequences of his disobedience have been unavoidably transmitted to all Adam’s descendants, causing a situation of “blood guilt” deserving death, and necessitating the sacrificial death of Christ in order to expatiate Adam’s sin.

While Bahá’ís do accept the sacrificial death of Jesus, they do not accept all the man-made theological justification that accompanies it. Regarding the crucifixion of Christ, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh, and the authorized interpreter of his teachings, said: “He (Christ) arose to teach and educate men, and so he sacrificed himself to give the spirit of life. He perished in body so as to quicken others by the spirit” (Some Answered Questions, p. 119). But he emphatically rejected the clerical interpretation of original sin.

This explanation is unreasonable and evidently wrong, for it means that all men, even the Prophets and the Messengers of God, without committing any sin or fault, but simply because they are the posterity of Adam, have become without reason guilty sinners, and until the day of the sacrifice of Christ were held captive in hell in painful torment. This is far from the justice of God. If Adam was a sinner, what is the sin of Abraham? What is the fault of Isaac, or of Joseph? Of what is Moses guilty?” (Some Answered Questions, p. 119)

The reasons for the commission of sin — i.e. breaking a commandment — are psychologically complex. Even with the indispensable spiritual education given by the Prophets, humans clearly exhibit a tendency to sin. But through conscientious striving, we can improve ourselves, thus more clearly exemplifying divine teaching.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen February 19, 2012
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