In Search of Soul: Kent’s Perspective

I’m back from vacation and see that Joe my blog partner has chosen the topic ‘In Search of Soul’. As always context matters. Joe writes as a recovering Catholic who now sees himself as an atheist. While Joe may disagree I see him as more of an agnostic in that he keeps the door open (if slightly) to the notion that there may indeed be something after this life is over.

On the topic of soul Joe reflects from the context of his boyhood Catholic theology. In particular Joe rejects the notion of original sin where Saint Augustine teaches that we are each born a sinful mess and are saved by a combination of confession and good works. In this theology the soul is blemished by our innately sinful nature.

While there is much I appreciate about Catholicism (liberation theology and mysticism) I’m not a fan of Augustine. Augustine’s original sin theology has dominated Catholicism and evangelical Protestant theology to this very day.

The theology of original sin was based more in Augustine’s own guilt than with what I glean from the life and lessons of Jesus.

In contrast another Bishop of the same era named Irenaeus offered an alternative vision. He believed in original blessing that teaches that each of us is born in the image of God and hence are born with inherent worth and beauty. Rather than saying we are born a sinful mess, Irenaeus taught that we are born beautiful, inherently worthwhile.

The fact that Augustine’s theology became dominate says more about politics within the church than about the virtue of a particular theology.

Original Sin teaches that we are born flawed. Original Blessing teaches that we are born beautiful.

Does sin exist? Of course. One need only look around and see the result of neglect and violence to know this to be so. Do we need to confess and get right with God? Yes. But to teach that we are born sinful is simply poor theology. Jesus always argued for our potential not our limitations.

Matthew Fox was a Dominican priest who re-introduced us to Irenaeus and others who promoted our inherent goodness. Fox’ landmark book ‘Original Blessing’ was like oxygen. Eventually Fox was kicked out of the priesthood for his heretical view that Augustine was wrong. But the truth had been told and many of us are grateful.

Joe as an atheist/agnostic can’t bring himself to believe that we are each created in God’s image. That’s ok. In the words of my Baptist ancestor Roger Williams, ‘ I grant my brother the right to be wrong’.

I simply want to remind Joe that the Catholic teaching of his boyhood isn’t the only way to imagine God (or the soul).


About Kent Harrop

I am bi-coastal...I was raised in New England (Rhode Island) and for twenty years 1994 - 2014 served as pastor of First Baptist Church McMinnville, Oregon. In May 2014 I moved with my wife Tricia back to New England and serve on a team of ministers at the First Baptist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts. I love the beauty and geographic breadth of Oregon and the north shore of Massachusetts. A growing edge for me is the integration of the contemplative and prophetic life. Tricia and I enjoy gardening, camping and kayaking on rivers and ocean. We have two grown daughters who are strong, smart and adventurous. The purpose of the blog is to explore the relationship between faith and the wider culture. The views expressed here are my own.
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10 Responses to In Search of Soul: Kent’s Perspective

  1. Glad to have you back. I would offer one thing in reply. Having explored many alternatives to Catholic doctrine I have found each to be lacking in ultimate truths. I do think there is something after this life, I just believe it has nothing to do with religion. The door between agnosticism and atheism may be cracked open a bit, bug it is closing. Who says Roger Williams wasn’t talking about you?

    Welcome back oh ye of much faith


  2. One more thing, before I close the door completely I’ve become intrigued by the mindfulness of Thich Nhat Hanh. Interesting


  3. Karen says:

    I heard Mathew Fox recently and have much respect for his work. Augustine wasn’t the only guy making up for the wild oats he sowed, and it’s too bad that stuff ended up as “theology”. I agree about the power aspect, and it says a lot about the church, that it embraced opinions that kept people in fear and ignorance for centuries. Making a pope infallible in the 19C was a great way to shore up cracks in the system.


    • Kent Harrop says:

      HI Karen, thanks for reading and for your thoughts. So true Augustine had lots of help in promoting the fall/redemption theology. For one thing it motivates people to get right with God lest you go to eternal damnation. For people like me who don’t believe this, our motivation is of a loving Creator who welcomes and embraces us whether we believe or not….for the nature of God is love. I guess Augustine and crew thought that fear is a bigger motivator. But I don’t agree. Holding the kays to help people get ‘right with God’ also means you hold the power. Who said ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karen says:

        Hi Kent, well I am really fascinated by the Divine, and I feel so decieved by some of the Catholic teachings, so I left many years, and ran the gamut of trying out various faiths. It’s disappointing many dismiss the mystics out there, in trade for the hard liners. But we each come to our own place, even if it’s continually looking for our own version of Deity. And maybe that’s the point for me, to not become complacent in my relationship with the Divine.


      • Kent Harrop says:

        HI Karen, thanks for sharing. I think many of us go through a de-constructing process related to the theology of our childhood. Some of it fits for us in adulthood and some of it doesn’t. Being encouraged to de-construct and gradually re-construct, hopefully with the support of a community can renew a person spiritually. It’s true that many traditions don’t allow for this but I think it’s ok, even essential to make one’s faith one’s own. For those in the Christian tradition I recommend a book entitled ‘The God we Never Knew’ and ‘Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time’ both by Marcus Borg.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Karen says:

    Thank you for the book recommends! I am going to look for them. I know my resentment of Jesus is a direct result of resentment my experiences with the church and it would be nice to reconnect with him.


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