Rev. Marilyn Sewell recently wrote a wonderful summary entitled the Theology of Unitarian Universalism. I would agree with most of what she wrote. There are two areas that I think need further discussion I begin with addressing the first area. I will write about the second area in another post.
She mentions briefly the following: “We must begin with the assertion that Unitarian Universalism has always emphasized freedom as a core value. It follows that human beings have a choice. We are not predestined by God before our births, to be saved or unsaved. We are not mired in original sin by the very fact of our birth and therefore have to go through a ceremony called baptism, even as babies, to cleanse ourselves of that sin. We do not have to have someone sacrifice himself by dying on a cross to save us from hell. Yes, human beings have a propensity to do evil, but we also have the propensity to do great good. We have a choice. Unitarian Universalists prefer to think of ourselves as being born into “original blessing,” as theologian Matthew Fox likes to put it.”
And then in her summary of Unitarian Universalist Theology she states the following: “We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.”
I would argue that this is not a universal theology of Unitarian Universalists and further I would state that this belief in Original Goodness is in fact a falsehood.
Let’s look at the definitions of terms. Original Sin defined in the Catholic Encyclopedia is as follows: “Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam.” Rev. Sewell is using the term Original Sin in the second meaning. Original Sin is this stain that is passed down through the ages by virtue of our birth.
This concept of Original Sin is rejected by most Unitarian Universalists. We would concur with the New Testament writer who wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God. There is no condition that we are born into that would separate us from Universal love from the moment of our first breath to the breathing of our last.
Original Blessing as theologian Matthew Fox uses the term means that we are born into love. He writes, “We can say blessing preceded creation, too, for blessing was its purpose. Thus there is no doubt that original blessing is the basis of all trust and of all faith. Original blessing underlies all being, all creation, all time, all space, all unfolding and evolving of what is. As Rabbi Heschel puts it, ‘Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.’”
He defines blessing as relational. “[O]ne does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver. A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality.” This concept of Original Blessing is very different from the concept that Rev. Sewell later calls Original Goodness.
Original Goodness implies that something is good in and of itself. This is not possible. There is no original goodness or virtue. Theologian James Luther Adams states, “There is no such thing as goodness as such; except in a limited sense, there is no such thing as a good person as such. There is the good husband, the good wife, the good worker, the good employer, the good layperson, the good citizen. The decisive forms of goodness in society are institutional forms.”
The quality of being good does not exist in a vacuum. It does not exist without form. Goodness does not exist in and of itself. What makes a person good is the social construct that it embodies. A good birth means that there were no complications. The good baby sleeps through the night. The good child is obedient to her parents. The good husband or good wife helps with the household chores. These are actions that our society has determined to be good. So to declare that there is an original goodness that humanity is born into is a falsehood. An infant is not born good or evil. An infant simply is.
Whereas, an infant can be born into original blessing because the relationship of blessing is already present in the child’s birth. The relationship of blessing, the covenant of relationship of parent to child is created at the very moment of birth resulting in blessing. But original goodness does not exist.
Rev. Sewell states that “sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.” Goodness and Evil are actions that are chosen, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by default but chosen nonetheless. So if Rev. Sewell wrote that Unitarian Universalists tend to believe in Original Blessing, recognizing that sin is sometimes chosen often because of pain and ignorance, then I would agree with her statement. However, she uses the term Original Goodness which is not the same as Original Blessing, they are two very different concepts.
Quotations are from the following:
1) The Theology of Unitarian Universalists by Rev. Marilyn Sewell
2) Catholic Encyclopedia
3) Original Blessing by Matthew Fox
4) Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion by James Luther Adams