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But why should original sin alone, among core Christian doctrines, have the power to do that? What about the other powerful idea in Genesis, that we are all made in the image of God? Doesn’t that serve equally well, or even better, to bind us as members of a single family?

The answer is that it should do so, but usually does not. Working against the force of that doctrine is the force of familiarity, of prevalent cultural norms of behavior and even appearance. A genuine commitment to the belief that we are all created equally in the image of God requires a certain imagination, an imagination that Agassiz, try as he might, could not summon: “it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us.” Instinctive revulsion against the alien will trump doctrinal commitments almost every time. Black people did not feel human to him, and this feeling he had no power to resist; eventually (as we shall see) his scientific writings fell into line with his feelings.

By contrast, the doctrine of original sin works with the feeling that most of us have, at least some of the time, of being divided against ourselves, falling short of the mark, inexplicably screwing up when we ought to know better. It takes relatively little imagination to look at another person and that, though that person is not all he or she might be, neither am I. It is true that not everyone can do this; the Duchess of Buckingham couldn’t. (“It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.”) But in general it is easier for most of us to condescend, in the etymological sense of the word – to see ourselves as sharing shortcomings or sufferings with others – than to lift up people ourselves. If misery does not always love company, it surely tolerates it quite well, whereas pride demands distinction and hierarchy, and is ultimately willing to pay for those in the coin of isolation. That the doctrine of a common creation in the image of God doesn’t do more to help build human community and fellow feeling could be read as yet more evidence for the reality of original sin.

  • Alan Jacobs in Original Sin – A Cultural History

I just finished reading Daniel Alarcon’s “Lost City Radio”. I blazed through it in a matter of days, though I probably should have finished it earlier than I did.

I picked up this book because I found Alarcon’s name listed among Wikipedia’s page of famous Peruvian authors and artists. Alarcon, though born in Lima, actually grew up in Birmingham, Alabama since he was three. I wonder if this fact undermines his writing on Peru or Latin American issues since his personal history lies rooted in the US. Nevertheless, we live in times where borders and nationalities blur more easily and national distinctions are becoming more and more artificial – what makes an American an “American”? What makes a Chinese person actually Chinese? Who gives a @(#*$^?

Although the book evoked emotion and empathy from me, its reporter-like style of writing did not agree with me. Alarcon paints beautiful images and captures sentimental details that evoke an internal smile from me at times, but for the most part I found his style boring, dry, and not creative enough. It reads like a New York Times article, which, although everyone loves and treats as manna from heaven, I find boring and too pedantic in its fancy verbiage. That’s just me though. I have no evidence to back my claims.

All is not lost, however, I actually really appreciated some of his abrupt scene changes. Alarcon jumps from scene to scene, sometimes zipping through 2 or 3 different flashbacks on a single page without prompting the reader. These hyper jumps has the potential to frustrate readers since the method disrupts the natural flow of traditional reading, but I felt the flashbacks were not too difficult to digest.

I wish I had copied down some passages that I found eloquent or poignant, but I never did. I usually jot down some nice quotes from books that I enjoy to keep for future reference, but, I guess this book didn’t have enough to compel me to draw out a pen and┬ápaper.

The Pasta Eater – Luca Giordano

In the 17th century, rich people carried a fork when they dined out, but its use spread slowly. A German preacher damne the fork as a diabolical luxury: “God would not have given us fingers if he wanted us to use forks.” Likewise, Darwin would not have given us opposable thumbs if he wanted us to use forks. (all this from my AP euro book)