Boyce stresses that the principal tenet of Christianity in the West isn’t, as many believe, the Judeo-Christian moral code. “Salvation did not come from being ‘good’ or worthy.” From the beginning, Christianity “was grounded in a deeply personal emphasis on the broken self, and a corresponding reliance on an external divinity to provide salvation.”In recent years theological sin may have faded in the western consciousness, but to Boyce the same idea keeps resurfacing in other ways: Hobbes' grim view of humanity outside civilization, Freud's subconscious, the selfish gene. A sense that we are rotten at our cores is a key part of both our psychology and our worldview.
I wonder. It is certainly true that in the Christian tradition a sense of the sinful self is a key religious trope, and from Augustine to Martin Luther to Oscar Wilde personal religious narratives are often saturated with a deep sense of sin. But is this notion universally relevant? On the surface, I don't see any major impacts to our civilization from the wrestling with personal sin. Of course a self-searching Christianity has been a major part of life for millions of people, and I don't want to dismiss that as irrelevant; I am looking for an impact on the broader outlines of our civilization.
The only way I can see original sin casting a broader spell is through Christianity's impact on western individualism. As I have written before, some historians now see the origin of the west's extreme individualism in Christian meditation. Whereas paganism and Confucianism put their emphasis on ritual acts, within Christianity there has always been a strong tradition of intense internal reflection, especially reflection on sin. I am intrigued by the notion that this contributes to western individualism; after all, it is quite extreme within the range of human variation, so it needs some explanation. Could it be original sin?