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Original Sin

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  195 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
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 n ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2008)
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Esteban del Mal
Jun 05, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Esteban by: The Wilson Quarterly
Three guys lay sun-blistered on the shore of a desert island. Something shiny washes up and one of the guys notices it glinting in the waves. He rubs the sand from it and out bursts a genie, to much sensory fanfare.

“As reward for releasing me from centuries of captivity, I grant each of you a wish,” booms the genie (but the genie probably communicates this in their heads, telepathic-like, because I don’t think anyone or anything, magical or otherwise, that has been isolated from humanity for cen
Mike Knox
In the introduction, Jacob notes that of all religious beliefs, none provokes more criticism and repulsion than the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is irreparable, irreversible, and unpredictable (x-xi). It is the belief that every human being is born with sin already in them. That we all inherit sin, and are culpable. The history of original sin is a history of resistance to it. So why, over the centuries, have so many stubbornly believed it? Well, as Chesterton noted, original sin has e ...more
Sep 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shane
I would call this pop theology, not cultural history. Still, it is engaging and persuasive pop theology.

The Western imagination, as Jacobs illustrates, has been preoccupied for millennia with the suspicion that we humans have somehow inherited a condition of pervasive moral corruption. Christian theologians are only one part of this tradition. The theologians' uniqueness, Jacobs insinuates, is in suggesting a way out of the corruption without denying that it is an essential part of our nature.
Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, culture
Enjoyed Alan's episodic tour of original sin (if that's actually allowed). His readable and oft insightful work wanders among various players who have pondered this great question of humanity's flawed moral character (or at least it wandered with me while I bounced between Moscow, Nashville, Cookeville, Chattanooga and back again last week). I found his treatment of Rousseau and the radical romantics, who keep hoping against irrational hope that we are essentially "innocent" from birth, particul ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really excellent. This has been on my shelves for years, and I don't know why i haven't read it sooner. Jacobs is very widely read, but not at the cost of depth.
Excellent. As usual, Jacobs has what Douglas Wilson calls "copiousness". He displays depth and breadth of insight into the history of this deeply offensive idea that we all unavoidably inherit moral evil. He's a good missiologist as well in the way that he avoids in-house language and winsomely invites skeptics to doubt their own doubts on this idea.
Yuri Bernales
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this historical-cultural survey, Jacobs maintains incredible expansiveness, clarity, grasp, and charity.
From Saint Augustine to Hellboy, from Chesterton to Rebecca West and Steven Pinker, Alan Jacobs' well-written and intelligent Original Sin is a examination of the history of a doctrine. The writing is intentionally light-hearted, as Jacobs believes that the doctrine's true effect is the realization that our selves are all equally absurd.

It is important to point out, firstly, what the book is not about. The doctrine of original sin is not concerned with the supposed original sin, the sin of Adam
Seth Mcdevitt
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Straight up interesting from tip to toe. Absolutely intriguing.
Chris Plemmons
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those willing to be stretched
Recommended to Chris Plemmons by: Charles Johnson
While attaining my undergraduate degree, I entered into a series of discussions regarding the potentiality for God to have written sin into our genes. Looking back, this conversation was another one of those conversations that could definitely be chalked up as being 2 fools adding 2 half-brains together discussing the intersection between biology and theology and only achieving ignorance. Yet, it was a discussion that piqued my interest and has always rested in the back of my mind.

Alan Jacobs b
"Original Sin" starts with an interesting, though ineffectual chapter dealing with wrongdoing throughout various cultures. It is an eclectic stroll which doesn't really lead anywhere and is only tangentially referenced in later parts of the book. This, unfortunately remains the format for most of what follows. Many different figures throughout time and space are referenced in a vaguely chronological order that leaves the reader with snippets of history, philosophy, and theology which never come ...more
Instead of subtitling the book "Original Sin: A Cultural History" I suggest this revision: "Profiles of Thinkers" or something like that. The writing is, in other words, the reading experience was a bit uneven in terms of tempo, suddenly slowing down sometimes, and suddenly speeding up at other times. But, worthwhile, throughout and to the very tragicomic and, ultimately, comedic end. Personally, I found these profiles of thinkers on both sides of the concept of original sin to be endlessly fasc ...more
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
While the traditional Roman Catholic view on what Original Sin is, and what it means to us, is very clear, throughout Western history and culture there have been many varied opinions about the subject. This book explores a good many of those opinions, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

The New England Primer (1777) noted “In Adam’s fall / We sinned all”, which (excepting the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin) is the Catholic view of Original Sin, which Jesus redeemed through his
I had intended to write a review of this, which is why I am only now making it as finished, but I have lost the desire. Part of the issue is that I do not think that I would fairly do so as I wanted it to be a different book. Or something. As best as I can say I wanted it to be a different book and if I am going to review it then I ought review the book the author wrote and not the one it isn't.

I will say that although it was interesting, I did almost give it up a couple of times. But that be re
Brian Collins
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jacobs' work is similar to a historical theology of original sin. He outlines how the doctrine emerged, its historical context, and the thinking of the theologians who formulated and defended it. But Jacobs' cultural history is much more than a historical theology. He also looks at broader cultural reactions to the doctrine of original sin and cultural events (such as utopianism) in light of the doctrine. G. K. Chesterton once marveled that people doubted the doctrine of original sin since it is ...more
Luke Vandall
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious
This book paints a clear picture of the historical arc of the belief in the doctrine of original sin. While it seems clear what side the author takes on the issue, the breadth of source material provides a quite clear scope of belief in the doctrine. Throughout the book, I found moments where I was forced to pause and consider whether the doctrinal support to which I had held flippantly was accurate.

Overall, if you have any interest in the subject matter, I would recommend this book to you. Jac
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book discusses the idea of original sin in different cultures from the time of the apostle Paul up through the 21st century. Typically, the stories involve the conflict of two points of view. Those who think that human beings are born as blank slates that are polluted by the culture they are born into and those who see human beings as having a propensity to evil and selfishness. Jacobs does a fairly good job of storytelling throughout, tying in the narratives of several key theologians, aut ...more
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian
Jacobs produced a really readable, informative narrative of this controversial doctrine's history through the writings of its great exponents and critics. Augustine, Pelagius, John Milton, Blaise Pascal, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Robert Owen all make appearances, along with many others.

It's a great, well-told introduction to the issue, written at a level that (I think) a wide audience can understand. Along the way, the reader gets a taste of some of the great writers
Adam Shields
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short review: This is a cultural history of how the concept of original sin has influenced western culture. It is not a theological history, but does have enough theological material to give a good back ground. I am a little sketchy on the doctrine of original sin as commonly understood. But Jacobs has showed me that the common understanding is not actually the proper theological understanding.

A longer review is on my blog at
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really great book. I still haven't quite finished it, but should do so tonight. As the title makes obvious, Jacobs traces the idea of original sin throughout Western history, with a little Eastern and African mixed in. Really fascinating book, and the variety of examples that he pulls in is astounding. Must read.
Stephen Hayes
I haven't read or rated this book yet, but merely marked it as "to read" in my good reads list, and only if I can get a library copy. My Good Reads friend Fr Ted has blogged about it, however, and I thought his comments were worth reading.
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like this book deserves 4 stars, but personally I didn't *really* like it, just kind of liked it. This may have been my first time to read this genre of cultural history, and that could be what made me not love the book. It is well written and very interesting but, perhaps due to the genre, a bit loose and lacking in cohesion.
Tyler Malone
Aug 31, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Bashing literature without giving textual examples. CS Lewis pandering. Atheists must have sort of prior religious experience to be taken seriously. These are just three things that bothered me about Alan Jacobs' book. If at all possible, I hope no one else stops when they see this book on sale for a dollar.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found myself wondering at the beginning what the point of this book was, but as it went on, the point became more clear. Jacobs does an excellent job showing how the doctrine of original sin "levels the playing field," creating a democracy of sinners, all of us in need of forgiveness and God's grace.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the book trailed off at the end (the story seemed to lose some coherence as Jacobs began talking about the modern world), the book was nevertheless well worth the read.
Sep 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jacobs has a unique style, mixing high and low prose styles, and it makes for interesting reading. Good story.
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably this is what going over to dinner at the Jacobs' is like!
Sep 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, history, culture
Fascinating. I really enjoy Jacobs' thought.
Jun 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nathaniel by: walt harrah
The presence of narrative in this book makes this hard theolgical topic a little easier to understand and easier to swallow. Jacobs is an excellent writer. This is book is a fun and not too heavy.
I appreciate what he was trying to do, just not sure he did it. But it was good.
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I grew up in Alabama, attended the University of Alabama, then got my PhD at the University of Virginia. Since 1984 I have been teaching at Wheaton College in Illinois. My dear wife Teri and I have been married for thirty years. Our son Wes begins college this fall, and to our shock, decided to go to Wheaton. I think he will avoid Dad, though.

My work is hard to describe, at least for me, because i
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“Peter Brown, that great historian of early Christianity, has given the most cogent explanation for the arising of the cult of the saints in the late Roman world. He explains that the emphasis of early Christian preaching on judgment, on the human need for redemption from sin, brought to the minds of common people — among whom Christianity was early successful — their social and political condition. Having strictly limited powers to remedy any injustice they might suffer, or to clear themselves of any charges of wrongdoing, they turned, when they could, to their social betters in hope of aid. If a local patrician could befriend them — could be, at least for a time, their patron — then they had a chance, at least, of receiving justice or at least escaping punishment. “It is this hope of amnesty,” Brown writes, “that pushed the saint to the foreground as patronus. For patronage and friendship derived their appeal from a proven ability to render malleable seemingly inexorable processes, and to bridge with the warm breath of personal acquaintance the great distances of the late-Roman social world. In a world so sternly organized around sin and justice, patrocimium [patronage] and amicitia [friendship] provided a much-needed language of amnesty.”

As this cult became more and more deeply entrenched in the Christian life, it made sense for there to be, not just feast days for individual saints, but a day on which everyone’s indebtedness to the whole company of saints — gathered around the throne of God, pleading on our behalf — could be properly acknowledged. After all, we do not know who all the saints are: no doubt men and women of great holiness escaped the notice of their peers, but are known to God. They deserve our thanks, even if we cannot thank them by name. So the logic went: and a general celebration of the saints seems to have begun as early as the fourth century, though it would only be four hundred years later that Pope Gregory III would designate the first day of November as the Feast of All Saints.”
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