I’ve talked about sin before, how the way we spoke of it in the evangelicalism of my youth was far too limited to address our human condition. Then I talked about it again, confessing how it threw me into a state of spiritual anxiety and trapped me in false guilt.
And now I want to talk about the Original Sin in the context of parenting, namely, how it is extremely damaging for children. To recap, for those who are blessed to not have grown up with the concept, Original Sin is the theological doctrine that we are born with a sinful nature. Somehow, when Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit in the Garden, their act of rebellion transferred to all their descendants. Theirs was the Original Sin, and because of them, we all are spiritually wired to sin. The good news about all of this bad news, is of course, that by believing in Jesus we are cleansed from our dirtiness and also empowered to live free from sin. That is the Christian gospel in a nutshell.
If this sounds benign to you, it’s because it has become so widely and popularly accepted that it is normalized. But this is NOT normal, and in fact, is detrimental to children. Here are ten reasons why:
1. Separation from God. The Original Sin states that we are separated from God because of it. Danielle Shroyer says in the Original Blessing, that Original Sin “frames the gospel as a story of separation.” Children have a fundamental need to be loved and to belong. To set them up in a separation story is to unnecessarily sever a beautiful bond between them and God.
2. Self-fulfilling prophecy. If a child is told they are inclined to sin, it sets them up for failure. And when they do make poor choices, it’s self-defeating because well, they know they were born to be that person.
3. Disingenuous to a child’s experience. Kids do sometimes misbehave, but they are also inclined to love lavishly. Original Sin doesn’t make room for those expressions of love and kindness—what’s a kid to understand why they feel compassion for others if they are told they have the Original Sin?
4. Discourages intuition. If what’s inside is bad, then a child is told not to trust their own intuition. This sets them up for all kinds of abuse because they are told to ignore warning signals, the intuitive sense that something feels wrong.
5. Disempowering. There is zero intrinsic motivation in the doctrine of Original Sin—every effort to do good has to come from Jesus or other religious/parental authority because the child is told what comes from their own motivation is always evil.
6. Disregards normal development. A toddler who tests boundaries is doing what’s healthy for them as they differentiate their own boundaries and way of being in the world. Original Sin relegates behaviors that are developmentally normal as proof that children are rebellious instead of exploring children’s psychology and healthy development.
7. Gets them off the hook. Each time a child makes a poor choice, it is an opportunity to learn and do better. Original Sin gets them off the hook, because if they sin they know it’s their inevitable nature and asking for forgiveness wipes their slate clean. No real work is done to become a better version of themselves.
8. Fixed Mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the insight of Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. Twenty years of research shows that the way you believe about yourself, whether that your character traits are fixed or has potential for growth, determines the person you become. Original Sin is the ultimate fixed mindset, because you’re told a sin nature is the hand you’re dealt. Any attempts to be a better person only makes you feel like a fraud or futile attempts to prove yourself worthy.
9. Antagonistic relationship to God. Original Sin states that you are an enemy of God from the get-go. Sure, reconciliation is possible through Jesus, but a baby is born waging war against God. This doesn’t set the child up for a healthy relationship with God.
10. Cheapens salvation. If we reduce the good news of the gospel to acquittal from the Original Sin, then we are withholding a far more beautiful gospel to our children—one that affirms a God who unconditionally loves them from day one, is present with them through all their joys and pain, offering steady, unflinching hope in their grittiest days. That gospel does not need the Original Sin, and neither do our children.
This post is inspired by Danielle Shroyer’s book, The Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place, find a thorough treatment of this subject in her rich and accessible book and say goodbye to the Original Sin forever, for your sake and for the kids.
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