Monday, December 7, 2009

Do the Editors of The Onion Read St. Augustine?


A recent headline from "America's finest news source," The Onion (New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths), brought to mind the first book of the Confessions, where St. Augustine reflects on his childhood, even trying to remember his own sins as an infant:

Who remindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth.
So, even a day-old baby is a sinner. But, just in case you think he was joking, St. Augustine continues:

Who remindeth me? doth not each little infant, in whom I see what of myself I remember not? What then was my sin? was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? for should I now so do for food suitable to my age, justly should I be laughed at and reproved.
But, you might object, how can an infant sin when it cannot knowingly choose sin? Well, any thoughts you might have had of the innocence of the young, St. Augustine rejects quite explicitly:

Or was it then good, even for a while, to cry for what, if given, would hurt? bitterly to resent, that persons free, and its own elders, yea, the very authors of its birth, served it not? that many besides, wise than it, obeyed not the nod of its good pleasure? to do its best to strike and hurt, because commands were not obeyed, which had been obeyed to its hurt? The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence.
A little later, just to make it clear that he was sinful even as an infant, St. Augustine cites Ps. 51 for support, interpreting it quite literally:

But if I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me, where, I beseech Thee, O my God, where, Lord, or when, was I Thy servant guileless?
Now, if you go back and read the article I linked, you might notice that the "study" sounds a lot like a modern, secularized version of St. Augustine's doctrine of original sin, and of the doctrine of concupiscence. The gist of St. Augustine's arugment and of the "study" is the same. Even the cutest little kids have seriously twisted wills, are self-centered, and manipulative. Even the quote near the end of the article stating that "the disorder is considered untreatable" meshes fairly well with St. Augustine (indeed, orthodox Christian theology, in general) that sin cannot be treated like a simple disease. (Incidentally, today's feast day reminds us that it takes a miracle to make a human being free of original sin.)

Of course, the writers at The Onion turn not to theologians for support, but to psychologists. Rather than invoking a set doctrine, they rely on studies and documented psychoses. They do not speak of the essence of man, but refer to the percentage of children suffering from a psychosis. They do not call for conversion, but rather for rehabilitation.

All in all, it was a striking resemblance, I thought.

Now, to finish, and to do the unspeakable: I will try to explain a joke. Why is the article from The Onion funny, at least to someone with a twised sense of humor like my own? It is funny because everybody today believes in a doctrine of original innocence of children, not original sin. The thought that St. Augustine might be correct would probably never occur to most of The Onion's readers. And that's a problem.
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