It is nearly the weekend! It has been a busy week here in Hong Kong. Thank you to all who have emailed me about the blog. I appreciate your comments and encouragement. Please feel free to leave comments here as well! As some of you will know, October 1 is National Day in China, and because it falls on a Sunday this year, we have October 2 as a holiday instead. This is quite nice as it also happens to be my birthday! I will aim to celebrate it by posting the next blog in my series on God. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on a BBC report. Have a nice weekend wherever you are in the world!
The Return of Original Sin
On Tuesday this week, Archbishop Tutu delivered the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town. Archbishop Tutu, as most will know, is now retired, but was in the past a leading campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, he was awarded a Nobel prize for his work. In his lecture, he questioned why a respect for the law, the environment, and even life were missing in South Africa. I was particularly interested to read the following in a BBC report:
‘Referring to the accusations of corruption that have been made about a number of South Africa's political leaders, Archbishop Tutu said: "They have shown that they are human. We all have been afflicted by original sin."’
I have to admit to some surprise as, perhaps wrongly, I have not seen Archbishop Tutu as someone who would normally use this sort of theological language. I well remember as a young theological student being told by the now Principal of a well-known theological college that it was basically naïve to attribute political problems to ‘original sin’.
In recent years, original sin has fallen from favour in theological circles, and you will find many Christian leaders who dismiss it as the novel creation of Saint Augustine in the fifth century. I heard a sermon not so long ago here in Hong Kong saying just that.
Essentially, Saint Augustine believed that human beings were sinners not just because they committed acts, which could be regarded as sinful, but because they were inherently sinful with a built-in tendency to sin. This belief - crudely stated here - was at the heart of the theology of the reformers in the 16th century.
Having been in danger of being consigned to theological history, maybe the comments of Archbishop Tutu coming as the do from someone who has been truly confronted with evil, may encourage people to see that the teaching of another Bishop long ago is nearer the truth than the idealistic ramblings of those who find any talk of sin embarrassing.
Saint Augustine, like Archbishop Tutu, was much involved in the politics of his day. The truth is that when we look at human life honestly, as it really is, the problems of human society can be seen to be not simply political, but fundamentally spiritual. No matter how offensive it may be to us, the truth is not only that we are sinners because we sin, but also that we sin because we are sinners. Once we accept this truth, the way we look at everything else has to change, whether in theology or politics.
We may like to think that we are born good into a good world, the fact is we are born bad into a bad world. Original sin, far from being the neurotic invention of a fifth century saint, is the both consistent teaching of the Bible and the constant experience of those involved, like Archbishop Tutu, in the struggle against evil wherever they may live.