Original Sin: A Cultural History

Original Sin: A Cultural History

by Alan Jacobs

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Overview

Essayist and biographer Alan Jacobs introduces us to the world of original sin, which he describes as not only a profound idea but a necessary one. As G. K. Chesterton explains, "Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king."

Do we arrive in this world predisposed to evil? St. Augustine passionately argued that we do; his opponents thought the notion was an insult to a good God. Ever since Augustine, the church has taught the doctrine of original sin, which is the idea that we are not born innocent, but as babes we are corrupt, guilty, and worthy of condemnation. Thus started a debate that has raged for centuries and done much to shape Western civilization.

Perhaps no Christian doctrine is more controversial; perhaps none is more consequential. Blaise Pascal claimed that "but for this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves." Chesterton affirmed it as the only provable Christian doctrine. Modern scholars assail the idea as baleful and pernicious. But whether or not we believe in original sin, the idea has shaped our most fundamental institutions—our political structures, how we teach and raise our young, and, perhaps most pervasively of all, how we understand ourselves. In Original Sin, Alan Jacobs takes readers on a sweeping tour of the idea of original sin, its origins, its history, and its proponents and opponents. And he leaves us better prepared to answer one of the most important questions of all: Are we really, all of us, bad to the bone?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060872571
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 882,821
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Alan Jacobs is professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois. He is the author of several books, including most recently The Narnian, a biography of C. S. Lewis. His literary and cultural criticism has appeared in a wide range of periodicals, including the Boston Globe, The American Scholar, First Things, Books & Culture, and The Oxford American.

What People are Saying About This

Ron Hansen

“Alan Jacobs’ cultural history of the controversies that Saint Augustine’s concept gave birth to is fascinating, entertaining, wonderfully researched, and thoroughly even-tempered, giving even the most disagreeable voices their say. Original Sin may well become the definitive book on the subject.”

Frederick Buechner

“With extraordinary erudition and just enough lightness of touch to leaven the lump, Alan Jacobs traces the tangled ways that we have tried to think about human cussedness.

Alan Wolfe

I do not believe in original sin. I do believe in Alan Jacobs. He is one the smartest and wittiest writers around on matters involving religion, and ORIGINAL SIN is a gem.

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