Sin and salvation

aBorn Bad – Original sin and the making of the Western World. By James Boyce

book  l  Black Inc  l  $34.99

Review by Nigel Tapp

Hobart author and Wesley Hobart Uniting Church member James Boyce is best regarded for his wonderful historical offerings focusing  on his home state and, last year, the founding of Melbourne.

Van Diemen’s Land: A History won the Tasmania Book Prize and was shortlisted for the NSW, Victorian and Queensland premiers’ and the Prime Minister’s literary awards. 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia won The Age Book of the Year Award, the Tasmania Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Victorian and WA premiers’ and the Prime Minister’s literary awards and the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature.

Boyce appears to revel in questioning long held beliefs and opinions in his historical works.

He is not afraid to be a little controversial which is why it was really not a great surprise he threw himself into a subject as difficult as the concept of original sin.

This doctrine dictates – in its most simplistic form – that humans are born bad and only God’s grace can bring salvation.
Boyce examines how the religious ideals of morality still underpin secular society, even at a time when Church attendance is on the decline and the doctrine itself is hardly discussed even in churches.

The feelings of guilt and inadequacy associated not with doing wrong, but with being wrong, are still evident.
Boyce traces original sin through the teachings of Catholicism, Calvinism, and Celtic Christianity, evangelical and modern Christianity and even during the Reformation.

Born Bad begins its journey in the story of Adam and Eve. Boyce considers the works of Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith and English evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins, with Martin Luther, St Augustine and even Sigmund Freud rating meaningful mentions.

Boyce stresses that he has not set out to defend or condemn the Western creation story “but to challenge the assumption that its influence was ended by science and secularism”.

One reviewer describes Born Bad as not simply a book on religion but an analysis of western culture, the modern human condition and our continuous search for the one thing that will save us from ourselves.

It is an apt description, but be warned this is not a light book in the sense that is a fairly difficult subject to get your head around if you are very much a layman such as myself. Reading it takes some work, but the effort is rewarded.


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