Support the Café

Search our Site

Original sin = original helplessness

Original sin = original helplessness

Giles Fraser, writing in The Guardian explores Augustine and Freud and the concept of original sin:

In the popular imagination, original sin has come to mean something about sex, and about sex being fundamentally bad. But this is unfair on Augustine. Original sin is not, primarily, a moral idea – more an existential one. Human beings are, he insists, broken – and commonly experience themselves as broken. We feel there’s something about us in need of fixing. And salvation, for Augustine, is the type of fixing that God promises.

For those turned off by the theology, I want to consider a remarkably similar proposal by Freud, whose atheistic credentials are impeccable. Freud did not believe in original sin, of course, but in something he called “original helplessness”, rooted in “the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood”. The fury of the child is of not being able to satisfy its own cravings, of not having control over the sources of its satisfaction. How we cope with this fundamental experience of dependency determines, in large part, how we live our lives. For some, the terror of helplessness leads them to suppress their own vulnerability, to adopt a sense of the self in which they are mini-gods, self-sufficient, immune from the harm that others can do to them.


What I have begun to learn in therapy, though it takes a lot of learning, is how not to find my own helplessness intolerable. To live with the wound of original helplessness, and even, at moments of strength, not to regard it as a wound but as the very means by which I am porous to the world and others.

In other words, to recognise the wound as a strange sort of gift, the scarred connective tissue through which I love and am loved. Finding strength in weakness is how St Paul understood all this. It’s a surprisingly Freudian agenda.

Read it all here.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café