A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

BLVR: How are you defining broken?

ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

BLVR: That’s all of us.

ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice: “Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”