Most adults born in Britain learn St Augustine’s doctrine, by law. Humans are born bad and we have to go to church to receive grace so we can be good. Happily, research by our own British scientists shows that Augustine was mistaken and humans are not predisposed to be bad. In fact we are naturally disposed to be cooperative and kind. Man’s innate sense of right and wrong predates Augustine by thousands of years. Far from offering a lead, religion was probably conceived to satisfy a human need to explain our evolved sense of morality.
Ironically, Augustine’s ancient ideas threaten our inborn capacity to cooperate and be kind. When we brand everyone with his dark label of sinfulness, we lose the opportunity to address the causes of bad actions by ourselves and others.
‘If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.’
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.
Most schoolchildren go on to renounce religion when they grow up, as I did. Unfortunately, rejection does not promptly disengage the billions of neural connections made in the brain during a child’s formative years. For many Britons their experience of religious instruction (RI) in school is soon forgotten. But some of us experience distress caused by the RI we received. Having a sensitive nature is a positive attribute. It’s what makes us human. But sensitive individuals are especially susceptible to subtle feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame, feelings that are sharpened by Augustine’s imputation of culpability. If you recognise some of these feelings in yourself, you may wish to talk about them peer to peer or just explore further. Resources are available below.