Fallenness as the Human Condition?
A couple of days ago in a comment on the common Muslim dismissal of Christian "inconsistency" -- namely, the charge that Christians are inconsistent in granting legitimacy to a secular sphere when they ought to realize that God is ruler over all -- I wrote the following in response to a point that I recalled in the writings of Seyyed Hossein Nasr:
Yes, I recall his criticism of Christian 'dualism' -- as I think he called it -- echoing the typically Muslim critique of Christianity's 'inconsistency' in distinguishing between the sacred and the secular as two legitimate spheres.I suppose there's much more that should be said about this, but I will simply cite a bit from other thinkers who take 'fallenness' seriously, though they use the expression "original sin." Edward T. Oakes, in a November 1998 article for First Things, "Original Sin: A Disputation," accepts that the critics of original sin have a point in their criticism of the negative consequences that at times result from a belief in original sin, but then argues that this very harm is evidence of original sin's validity and that worse harm results from a commitment to what is called "progressivism":
In my opinion, the Muslim critique radically underestimates what Christians call human fallenness. Integralist visions always do underestimate our human capacity for evil and attempt to construct an ideal society subsumed under one big idea. The result is always Hell on Earth.
It might sound intolerably paradoxical to say this, but it is precisely the very harm that sometimes comes from the doctrine of original sin that proves its validity. This is a point made time and again by Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish emigré intellectual now at the University of Chicago, author of a three-volume history of Marxist thought and a man who therefore knows something of the harm visited upon the human community by doctrines of progressivism. In his recent book of essays, Modernity on Endless Trial, he shrewdly notes how this third objection to original sin can be turned into a supporting argument . . . .The "harm" referred that results from belief in original sin varies from a morbid obsession with one's individual guilt to a fatalistic acceptance of injustice in society, and Oakes goes on to cite Kolakowski's concession on this point, along with his observation that the denial of fallenness has even worse results:
The possible disastrous effects of the concept of original sin on our psychological condition and on our cultural life are undeniable [because of its use to keep people “in their place” and not alter unjust social structures]; and so are the disastrous effects of the opposing doctrine, with its implication that our perfectibility is limitless, and that our predictions of ultimate synthesis or total reconciliation can be realized. However, the fact that both affirmation and rejection of the concept of original sin have emerged as powerful destructive forces in our history is one of many that testify in favor of the reality of original sin. In other words, we face a peculiar situation in which the disastrous consequences of assenting to either of two incompatible theories confirm one of them and testify against its rival.I take it that Kolakowski means that if a belief in fallenness has such consequences as a morbid obsession with personal guilt or a fatalistic acceptance of social injustice, such improper reactions are only to be expected of fallen creatures, but that the consequences of affirming human perfectability are even worse because such an affirmation raises the standard of expectations -- both individual and social -- far beyond what human beings are capable of and results in such utopian monstrosities as the Communist totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, which tried to scale the heights of heaven upon a mountain of corpses. In my opinion, Islamist integralism leads to the same result.
I'm indebted to my friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, for the link to the First Things article. Bill has been discussing several of the logical conundrums confronting those who take original sin seriously, and he would be well worth reading on the subject, though I've had too little time lately to do so myself, being immersed in teaching and editing.