Five Giants by Josh Philip Saunders

Structural sin

Cover image credit
‘Five Giants’, Illustration by Josh Philip Saunders. Further details available at:
Commissioned by the RSA for their work on ‘Britain’s New Giants’

Christianity needs a concept of structural sin

For many people in the western world, their ideas of good and evil are heavily influenced by Christianity, even if they are not religious. The Church teaches children that a sin is an act they do. Those children grow up into adults who don’t understand how they, without doing anything particularly evil themselves as an individual, can still be part of much wider problems, like structural racism, inequality, poverty and environmental damage. These are all ‘structural sins’, and our ability to respond to them is stunted by our inability to understand our role in them.

Stuck with an idea that we are only responsible for our own direct actions, we end up unable to deal with any problems that lie outside our most obvious responsibilities as a solitary individual.

In secular politics, more people are now starting to understand and think about institutional or structural racism and structural inequalities. Secular society is learning the language it needs to describe systemic oppression. Christianity also needs a concept of structural sin.

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