Can Christian sin-talk be retrieved within the public sphere? In this contribution to ecotheology, Ernst M. Conradie argues that, amid ecological destruction, discourse on sin can contribute to a multidisciplinary depth diagnosis of what has gone wrong in the world. He confronts some major obstacles related to the plausibility of sin-talk in conversation with evolutionary biology, the cognitive sciences, and animal ethology. He defends an Augustinian insistence that social evil, rather than natural evil, is our primary predicament. If the root cause of social evil is sin, then a Christian confession of sin may yet yield good news for the whole earth.
Introduction: Sin and Social Diagnostics
1. Penultimate Perspectives on the Roots of Environmental Destruction in Africa
2. Where Have Things Gone Awry in Evolutionary History?
3. How is the Story of What Went Wrong in the World to be Told?
4. Obstacles Thwarting a Retrieval of a Christian Notion of Sin
5. Posse Non Peccare?
Conclusion: Engaging in Social Diagnostics
Ernst M. Conradie is senior professor in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape.
"Christianity has two great traditions – the Protestant, known for its prophetic 'no' to human involvement in evil and the Catholic, stressing its positive, celebrative side. Ernst Conradie has given us a splendid book in the prophetic tradition, re-imagining the ancient doctrine of sin for a postmodern, climate-change society. It is a powerful, thorough, well-written 'case' for sin, one that I admire and find very persuasive."
– Sallie McFague, Professor of Theology Emerita, Vanderbilt University School of Theology, and Distinguished Theologian in Residence, Vancouver School of Theology
"Ernst Conradie offers us a book filled with searching questions and profound insights into the nature of human sin in the context of environmental destruction and evolutionary science. With his usual intellectual rigour and radical honesty, he seeks to show how talk of sin can enable a response to the fundamental question: 'What has gone wrong with the world?'"
– Denis Edwards, Australian Catholic University
"Two decades into the twenty-first century, diagnosing the causes of ecological catastrophes is imperative. Tracing the way Christian understandings of sin have shaped such catastrophes is useful. Attending to the insights of those who have been harmed by such understandings is essential. Reviewing such understandings in light of the best findings of contemporary science is ambitious. And defending an Augustinian conception of sin revised in light of such science to a skeptical public is audacious. Yet in these essays, Ernst Conradie manages to pull all this off through his deeply learned, jaw-droppingly wide-ranging, and profoundly generous scholarship. Social diagnoses are only as good as the diagnostician; in this book, we not only learn of the utility of (some) sin-talk for addressing the crises of the environmental age but observe the types of practices that should guide social diagnosticians everywhere."
– Mark Douglas, Columbia Theological Seminary
"In this probing analysis of what is wrong with the world, Ernst Conradie revitalizes the 'outworn' Christian concept of sin by situating it within our evolutionary context and applying it to the problem of ecological destruction. Thus, in a wonderfully perceptive and compelling way he does precisely what contemporary theologians should do: retrieving resources from their tradition and putting them to good use in the public sphere."
– Gijsbert van den Brink, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam