On sin and sin nature

Dear Hannah,

As I've been watching you these past few weeks, I've noticed we have a lot in common.  Neither of us likes to be slighted or ignored.  Neither of us likes to be laughed at, or to have to share.  Each of us enjoys doing things we want to do, neither of us likes doing the things that we don't, and we both enjoy asserting our own authority.  And what I've realized from watching you for so long isn't that you're a horrible person for wanting to do things your own way. I've simply come to the realization that I'm a baby who's learned how to reason.  Twenty-four years ago I wanted many of the same things I want today.  I simply learned how to reason to get them, and to do it in the most sociable way possible.

Some people say this is proof that we're sinners.  They'll say that babies steal from other babies, and they'll throw tantrums when they don't get what they want.  Even Chesterton once said that babies were tiny so that they wouldn't kill us, and they were cute so that we wouldn't kill them.  Maybe this is proof of a sin nature after all, that neither parents nor children can share society unless one is severely handicapped by size, and the other is incentivized by instinct.  But I think there's another way of looking at the situation which might be more helpful.

The Psalmist says he was conceived in sin, and lots of time has been spent by nearly all sects of Christians proving that we're bad from the beginning.  But Moses went nearly the opposite direction, saying that everyone below the age of 19 hadn't learned the difference between right and wrong -- and were thus before the judgment of God innocent.  This is of course a legal fiction: we all know that we know the difference between right and wrong before 19; and we certainly know that someone had to draw a line at some age, and that drawing it too low would mean too many innocents would be treated like criminals, and drawing it too high would mean that too many criminals would be treated like innocents.  To borrow from Edmund Burke, nobody knows the exact moment night turns into day, but we can easily tell the difference between them.  Law requires that we set a definite point for their separation, however gray that spot is between them.

But if we look at the matter further, why even say babies' tendencies make them sinful?  Without a healthy will to live in our own way, or a desire to be important to our friends, or an interest in owning things, or a desire to improve our own lot, who could call us human?  And not stopping at human, who could call us living?  Imagine a world in which nobody wanted respect or comfort or pleasure or possessions -- ignore that even survival was a necessity.  What would we do?  The answer is plain.  In this hypothetical world, we would do nothing.  And supposing such a "perfect" person were to exist in our present world, he wouldn't be morally superior: he would simply die because he didn't desire to live.  Our desires are our survival and our happiness as well as our deaths and our misery.  Some men say that we're evil for desiring.  They shame us for what we want, instead of shaming us for what we do.  They don't have a philosophy of wisdom.  They have an ethic of suicide.

But I have another way of looking at babies.  I deny they're sinful by nature because wanting food and respect and pleasure and liberty is healthy; and I deny it because they haven't had any experience, and if you haven't got experience then you haven't learned to reason.  I believe that our righteousness is the ordering of our passions in the most beneficial, symbiotic, and just way.  If men are sinful because they're born wanting to survive and thrive; and if God has given us these desires from our birth; and if heaven is a place where nobody will sin because men will have new bodies with newer and better desires, then God -- and not man -- is responsible for our sin nature.  But if the age of reason is draws a line between the end of innocence and the beginning of responsibility; and if experience is the only way we learn to reason, then let's hold men accountable for their sins, and let's let the babies be babies. 

Your father,


  1. I humbly submit that J is conflating two ideas of sin and innocence. Romans 3:32 states that "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" Theologically, all human beings at time of conception are sinners. However, those who have never heard the Gospel or those who have not matured enough to understand the difference between good and evil will not be judged under the Law. Philosophically, a baby's nature is utterly self-centered, purely human. It is through training, discipline and education that a baby is "civilized" according to their parent's culture. Yes, God made man and placed in him all of the natural urges remonstrated above, but God also provided us all with free will. We can choose to remain the self-centered, uncivilized brute, or we can learn to contain those primitive urges through education, self-discipline and spiritual guidance and transcend the human condition. But at the end of the day, a baby is not sinful because of his nature or actions, he's sinful because all son's of Adam and Eve are born into sin. You can attempt to blame God for Man's sinful nature, but He created us in innocence and without sin. Adam and Eve CHOSE to sin in the garden and damned every last one of us by their disobedience, babies included. God then provided us all a way back to salvation, with our sinful, self-centered egos intact.


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