Is man fallen (in sin)?

St Augustin said that man was born into sin and incapable of saving ourselves I.e going from the city of man to the city of god without being lifted there by God. Sounds quite radical no the face of it. But there was a lot of reason in his argument. In today’s language one would probably say that man is selfish because we try to make the world in our image. We view things subjectively, not objectively. And we are not capable of standing behind rawl’s veil of ignorance. Put in such a modern way would you be inclined to agree or disagree with Augustin’s assessment?


  • On whether man is too selfish to lift himself up to God, I would say there are a few who can accomplish it themselves by renunciating the world and spending a lifetime serving others, but most of us can not.

    I’ve thought of giving it all up from time to time, but I don’t have the fortitude, even though logically speaking I think it’s the path to go.

    Interesting post!

    • Thanks for the post Preeti. For those of you who don’t know Preeti is currently writing a book about religion so it’s great to hear your thoughts!

      This is an area that has long divided Christians, and indeed still does today. For although a great deal of Christianity is built on Augustinian logic it contradicts much of what the Church later came to preach. Aquinas for example taught that we could aspire to come closer to God, and from this logic the Church even laid down grounds for revolution against the state. These grounds required people to make judgements about the justice and virtue of policies, something that Augustin would have said we are too steeped in sin to accomplish.

      But why do so many, even within the same religion, disagree? Is it because as you say Preeti only some can reach the city of God by rejecting the world? This supposes that the sin can be found without, and goodness only within. Is that what you mean Preeti?

  • Yes, I think so. If someone is attached to anything external, be it objects, time, places, people, or their own bodies, then I think “sin” is bound to happen because people make an effort to maintain those sources of happiness, but unfortunately those are all temporary and ever-changing. However, if a person is interested only in their own soul and consciousness, then there is not much activity that needs to be performed to achieve happiness, because they already have it.

    An example would be a Mother Theresa, or someone enlightened who did not need external pleasures to be happy.

  • Thanks again for your answer. It’s one that reflects a great deal of eastern philosophy. However I have to disagree, and say instead that goodness, as with happiness, comes from both within and without.

    If goodness comes from within then what does it come from within? Within our individual biological entities? Is it codifed into our genes and hence a hereditary trait? Is it a social construct that comes from within groups? Can it be learnt, and thus be, at least partly, a construct made of the agent’s environment? If the answer is anything but the first then we must say that goodness comes also from without. And indeed it must. You gave Mother Teresa as an example. But would she have done so much good in a different environment? She was a frustrated, and often unhappy woman. She once grew so enraged at the western way of thinking that she through a (quite heavy) award at those who’d given it to her, shouting that people should pay more attention to the needy than those who are perceived to have ‘achieved’ certain things. And would Mother Teresa have been viewed as a good person in all societies, at all points in history? Probably not – she may very well have been told that she was acting in an un-lady like manner at many points in our very recent history.

    In other words these concepts are subjective. For instance I don’t agree that there is anything wrong with much of what Augustinians describe as sinful. The very concept of sin is to me a quite abhorrent term. Now it may sound Sophistic of me to say that goodness and happiness can come from without. But let’s take a lesson from Francis Bacon and actually look not only at the logic but also at the facts and figures. Here we can see that those people who are clinically depressed are almost always those who don’t achieve outward goals e.g. acceptance for their differences, employment, good grades etc etc. We can tell ourselves all day long what is good and happy. But even if you manage to shut out the world and convince yourself that you’re right and everyone else is wrong then you would still be unhappy, for you would be missing social contact, reassurance from others that you’re in the right etc etc. We are after all social animals. I seriously doubt that any human being could be happy and good locked by themselves in a world in which they have no outward contact. What good could they do? How would they attain anything more than temporary happiness? Thus happiness and goodness must both come from within and without.

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