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).