Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Alan Jacobs, who teaches English at Wheaton College, is a wonderful writer who can be found in the pages of First Things and sometimes at The American Scene (and who wrote a great biography of C.S. Lewis). Now he has a new book called Original Sin: A Cultural History, which came in my mail today. Maybe you'll be enticed by the review of the book in Christianity Today, which emphasizes how Jacobs
uses literary and historical examples to show what the doctrine means. It is not simply a description of a quaint story about a garden with an apple. It is an expression of what's wrong with all of us, an attempt to answer the question, Whence all this evil?
The range of culture that Jacobs engages runs from Augustine and Origen to "the Hellboy films and George Thorogood's 'Bad to the Bone.'" I'm particularly interested in the political implications that Jacobs draws from the fact of our common flawed nature. As the reviewer, Jason Byassee, summarizes:
Original sin is a good word to the poor, bad news to tyrants, and a prescription for a politics more radical than any we've seen: a genuinely Christian democracy, inclusive of all the living and the dead, each equally bound up in a plight we cannot solve ourselves.
Jacobs thinks original sin does this leveling work in a way that other points of Christian anthropology do not. God's good Creation, humanity's crafting in the image of God, the charge to tend the Garden and to multiply: such prelapsarian pronouncements don't lift the luggage politically. They "should do so, but usually" do not, he writes. Somehow it works better for us to "condescend" than to try and lift up others to our level.
This all speaks powerfully to me. But I'm a Protestant. What do Catholics think about the idea that equality and democracy rest more securely in the recognition of universal human flaws than universal human possibilities?