In a recent Encounter program on ABC Radio National entitled “The Innoncents”, several folk from differing disciplines (not necessarily theological) offer serious challenges to the old rejoinder against the Christian doctrine of original sin: “But how can you say that an innocent baby is sinful?” For exmample:
Bonnie Miller-McLemore: Well, it [Augustine’s observation that even an infant can display sinful jealousy and greed] sort of appeals to me, because it reveals the complexity of human nature from the very beginning. And with my own children, it’s really easy when you just have one child – I have three – and when your firstborn is small, they do appear, and they are, incredibly wonderful, wondrous beings. On the other hand, when you bring another infant into that, a sibling, my husband and I would laugh, because that did seem to be more illustrative of some of the emotional – let us even say moral, spiritual – taints of competitiveness, of desire, or conflict, or tension. So we saw this more when we had two children than when we just had one. And it’s not that our first was just a perfect little being till the second was born, they’re three years apart, and in fact there might be other places where I can look back and think about struggles, conflicts, tensions, intent to do wrong at a very young age.
But then there is this tripe from none other than a Catholic priest (I won’t name him to save embarrasment and discredit):
David Rutledge: It was lovely to see the babies [coming to be baptised] this morning in those white robes, which I guess would be a traditional symbol of innocence. Is that how you see it?
Father Fudge [not his real name]: It is, certainly, a child wearing white is a sign of their innocence.
Who taught this guy his liturgical theology? The white robe is a symbol of being clothed in the purity of Christ–ie. having our sin forgiven. Unfortunately the practice of bringing babies to the font already clothed in white (instead of baptising the child naked an putting on the white clothes afterward) has given all the wrong ideas. See how Lex orandi affects the Lex credendi? Any way, Father Fudge isn’t finished yet:
David Rutledge: What does it mean to call a child innocent?
Father Fudge: I believe that we are all born with certain needs and drives and tendencies. These babies are just purely innocent, because they’re just responding to their own needs, for food and protection, and they scream when they want something and Mum or Dad try to respond to that.
David Rutledge: And that’s something which – there’s a certain strand in Christian teaching and tradition which sees that as evidence of, as you mentioned, original sin. Certainly St Augustine saw it as that; he looked at the child crying and saw that as evidence of sin. How much sense do you think it makes to talk about young children being sinful?
Father Fudge: I don’t think it makes a great deal of sense at all. I don’t believe that children have a sense of sin for many years [“Sense of sin”??? Who said anything about “Sense of Sin”??? The question was about young children being sinful, you twit. Don’t you know the difference?] – and I don’t even mean just when they start school, it’s probably when they’re in upper primary that they begin to get a sense of sin [there he goes again]. …I don’t think they have a sense of sin [and again] at all until quite older. We celebrate First Reconciliation with children when they’re about seven years of age. And I personally think that’s too young.
Holy moley. This bloke is from Sydney. Shows you what Cardinal George is up against. There is some serious, serious catechisation needed here. This priest displays what has gone wrong with Christian rhetoric of sin: we have exchanged the truth of sinful-NESS for something vague called a “SENSE of sin”–as if you remain perfectly innocent so long as you don’t have a “sense” that the evil you are doing is sinful. Dear, O dear, O dear…