One of the Christian doctrines most offensive to modern Unbelief is the doctrine of sin--and in particular, original sin. If ever there was a truth which Unbelief rails against, this would be it. Yet it is a truth which is demonstrated before our eyes and in our experience every single day.
It is true that Unbelief has had its prophets who have insisted upon the universal depravity of humanity--such as Shakespeare, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dostoevsky and Conrad. Whilst these have moved our Unbelieving generation it has not been towards the truth. Rather these prophets serve to galvanise to a greater effort of insisting upon man's perfectibility. Evil is external. It is circumstantial. Rarely is it acknowledged to be intrinsic to the heart of man.
C. E. M. Joad, writing in the early 1950's reflects on the antipathy of his generation to the doctrine of human depravity and how it was his generation that saw the turning of the tide into Unbelief.
Brought up in a late Victorian Christian household, I went, like nearly all children of the English middle classes, regularly to church (or chapel) and fairly regularly to Sunday-school. Here I was taught that man was born in sin and that the heart of him was desperately wicked. This part of Christian doctrine was not, perhaps, much insisted upon, but the Prayer Book was explicit enough. The Confession told me that I had "left undone those which" I "ought to have done", that there was "no health in" me and that I was a "miserable offender".Joad goes on to describe how, whilst this was the teaching of his childhood, the intellectual climate of his adult years was "utterly antagonistic to the suggestions of the Prayer Book". Man was not fallen, not depraved, not sinful. In fact, the Christian faith was inhuman or anti-human to purvey a doctrine of universal human sinfulness. The Christian religion was itself, therefore, utterly antagonistic to the human race.
This view of me was further insisted on in the Communion Service in which I was led to "acknowledge and bewail" my "manifold sins and wickedness, which" I "from time to time most grievously" had "committed, by thought, word and deed against " God's "divine Majesty, provoking most justly" His" wrath and indignation against" me.
The Collects reinforced the lesson, pointing out that I had no power of myself to help myself, and adding that without God "the frailty of man . . . cannot but fall". For this reason I was encouraged to pray earnestly for God's help. "O God," I prayed, "because through the weakness of" my "mortal nature" I "can do no good thing, without Thee, grant" me "the help of Thy grace". [C. E. M. Joad, The Recovery of Belief (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), p. 46f.]
This universal rejection of the doctrines of original sin and ubiquitous human depravity was a signal moment in the West's rebellion against God. More than anything else it signified the departure of God from our culture.
Under the Old Covenant when Israel's rebellion had reached its zenith, God departed. The prophet Ezekiel, himself speaking from captivity in Babylon, graphically described the decamping of God from His people at that time.
. . . I fell on my face and cried out saying, "Alas, Lord God! Art Thou destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Thy wrath on Jerusalem?" Then He said to me . . . "My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, but I shall bring their conduct upon their heads." . . . Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple. . . (Ezekiel 9: 8,9 & 10: 18)How do we know the fierce and implacable rejection of the doctrine of man's sin against God signified a departure of God from His people in the West? We know because of what the Lord Jesus Himself taught. He promised that He would send the Spirit of God to us, to lead us, teach us, inspire us, and draw us to God. The sign of His coming would be that He would "convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father . . . and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16: 8-11)
When a generation arose which disbelieved and denied the doctrine of human sinfulness it signified the departure of God's Spirit from the West. In withdrawing His Spirit, He would no longer convict His people of their sinfulness. As a result He would bring our native conduct upon our own heads. His eye would not pity us. He would not spare us. Thus followed World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Europe, the Cold War, and the perpetual global warfare of our day under the aegis of the United States and NATO, eerily reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.
What Unbelief in its wilful stubbornness denies, God inflicts upon us. When a culture denies the Christian doctrine of human depravity, God withdraws and we experience the corrupt fruit of our blind arrogance and rebellion. It's not pretty.