The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Sin or Sickness?


Some say American Christianity is polluted by popular psychology. Some point to the Christian book stores that have shelves full of self-help materials. The study of man and his cognitive and behavioral process, which is psychology’s aim, has gone too far they argue.

Does psychology have a place for the Christian? Isn’t Romans 7 enough for us to understand about ourselves? Can the Christian belief in real sin coexist with psychology’s mental illness ideas?

So far we’ve considered whether sin is an actual thing or merely a human creation. We’ve also looked for someone to blame for all the negativity surrounding sin. Now, we will consider the final question: Are we sinful or just sick?

Our resident experts, Al and Jay, are back to hold down their respective ends of the spectrum. Al’s supporting the sickness agenda; Jay’s thrown in with the sin crowd.

Much of our conversation surrounding the last question will serve to frame our thoughts here. Last time we considered the flaws that Al sees in the Christian view of responsibility: a strictly personal attribution—blaming ourselves for all our failures—likely leads to shame and guilt, which in turn often drive individuals deeper into those bad habits.

Jay, in an effort to defend his view, reminded us that the Christians beliefs about the nature of sin are more nuanced than straight-up self-blame. Sin is universal, so not only are individuals to blame, but a certain amount of blame falls to others as well. This dual blame means that no individual needs to bear all the shame and guilt for his faults.

Beginning with this universal aspect of sin in Christian belief, let’s take a look at our final question. The fact that every individual is partly responsible for the collective problems of humanity, down to the individual level, begs the question: How has sin so thoroughly permeated human life? The Christian belief would argue that the answer lies in the origin of sin. It goes back to the source of all human life. The choices made by the first parents resulted in sin at the most basic level and the most primary source. Like a plague, the source of the sickness is the key to the problem. Sin began in the original gene pool and thus plagued all humanity after it. Every man is a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, both of whom were sinful, so all are sinful.

On the other hand, psychology argues that sin has nothing to do with it. At most, it is the inherently negative belief in sin that is detrimental. Individuals aren’t responsible; they’re only victims infected by these negative ideas. There is, in fact, no clear cause for individual problems, except to blame other individuals. Other people are mean and nasty and that hurts the individual. But there’s no articulated universal reason for why people are mean to each other. At most it comes down to antagonistic cultural norms or negative social pressures upon the individual. There is no overarching cause for widespread problems on the individual level.

These are thus the two options: the Christian argument sufficiently accounts for the cause (original sin) for both corporate and individual problems albeit via a belief which many dispute as folklore. In mainstream psychology, no real cause is given for the human problems on a universal or personal level though psychologists recognize that problems do exist. For the Christian, sin is the cause for sickness, and that on the most basic level. In mainstream psychology, others are the cause for the individual’s sickness but can’t adequately account for internal chaos of individuals.

Considering these two positions, I imagine my own conclusions have bled through. And so we return to the question here considered: Are we sinful or sick?

To which I would say, Yes.