Tough Standard

In any case, I wouldn’t claim that she‘s completely innocent of serious wrong- doing at this stage of her life. Probably no child that age is completely innocent. And Jesus did say that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect.*

That‘s a tough standard. But when I think about my granddaughter at an earlier age, lying, say, in the neonatal intensive care unit, where she spent the first three months of her life, with an oxygen tube, and a feeding tube, and a heart monitor, all taped to her tiny body—for she was born in the 29th week of my daughter‘s pregnancy, and weighed less than 3lbs. at birth—I cannot think of her, at that stage of her life, as a sinner, deserving of Hell. She did not even cry greedily for her mother’s milk.

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In the Christian tradition it is normal to baptize infants at an early age because it is believed that they come into the world tainted by the sin of Adam and Eve.† This is the doctrine of original sin. I cannot believe in original sin. My granddaughter may be a sinner now, but not when she was in the intensive care unit.

Original sin is also less widely accepted now than when my church was founded. I find many Christians who reject original sin. I sympathize with them. Their hearts are in the right place, certainly. But, Christians can reject original sin only at the cost of a substantial reinterpretation of their scriptures and traditions.‡

* I was surprised to discover, from email I received after the debate, that not all of my Christian critics recognized this allusion to Matthew 5:48.

** Another example from St. Augustine, who uses it to illustrate his sinfulness even as an infant. See Confessions I.vii.11. An unhealthy sense of sin seems to be characteristic of a certain kind of Christian. It is unfortunate that that kind of Christian has been so influential in the history of this religion.

† This seems to have been the original justification for this practice, though like much else in early Christianity it subsequently became controversial. Some abandoned the practice. Others found other justifications for it. For a good brief account see Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, 2nd edi- tion, Blackwell, 1997, pp. 514–518.

‡ As Article IX puts it: “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteous- ness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh . . . is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that con- cupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.” The principal scriptural authority for this doctrine is found in the letters of St. Paul (the source of so much that is appalling in tra- ditional Christian teaching), notably in Romans 3:9–20, 5:12–21, and 1 Corinthians 15:20–22. I had thought from something Dr. Craig said later in our debate that this doctrine might be rejected in the Wesleyan tradition to which he adheres. But the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church (available at seem very similar.