Theological reimagining emerges the way music emerges from children. It’s not always pretty, but it’s something that seemingly must get out, and in getting out, it brings forth a contagious energy, an energy for novum, for a revision of world. Perhaps Scripture trades in a similar energy, for reimagination tumbles through its pages at a bewildering pace. Indeed, from the sacrifices of Abel to the tribal religion of Abraham, the national faith of the kings, the subversion of the prophets, and finally that messianic movement from the backwaters of Palestine, we can see the unfolding of God’s varied business in the world as a saga of reimagination.
Christianity has never reimagined alone. As an inextricably incarnational (that is, human) faith, it has been formed and reformed in dialogue with nonecclesial spheres, as seen in the Neoplatonism of the early church, the Aristotelianism of the Middle Ages, the humanism of the Reformers, and so on. “There is no such thing as the Christian faith,” rightly notes W. Paul Jones, and this perpetual reimagining of the faith is fueled by the diversity and dynamism of the church’s witness, alloyed always by the pragmatics of cultural location.1
The question, therefore, is not whether Christianity will reimagine itself or its theology—it has, and it will. The question is simply how the reimagining might be done. I echo Ben Quash in noting that the church must always “relate the given to the found,” in which the given is the historic thread of inherited faith, and the found is the pressing need for reimagination in the present moment.2 Theologia semper reformanda.
In our time, one of the greatest needs for theological reimagination is in the context of trauma. In its most elemental sense, a trauma is a physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual wound. But in its more specific register, a trauma is a wound that has not healed, that festers and colors life through symptoms, flashbacks, and inhibited function.3 And it takes only short forays into our history to realize that many of the traumas—personal and corporate—that have been gouged into Western history are entangled with theological constructs. Consequently, theologians must be interested in what could be called theologized trauma, that is, trauma that at least partially correlates with the social consequences of specific theological or doctrinal constructs. Doctrine has empowered perpetrators, silenced victims, and terrified children; it makes or breaks the spiritual lives of many. A focus on theologized trauma thus prompts the constructive question of how theology, reimagined, might become a source of healing rather than hurting. How can the given relate to the found in this frame?4
The Given: Sin and Its Damage
A doctrine of human brokenness, of a less-than-perfect human condition and a need for redemption, is central to Christianity (e.g., see Gen. 3–4, John 8, Rom. 5–7, Gal. 3, and Eph. 2), but when we tread the fields of hamartiology, we find ourselves at a loss for fences. Where is the approved territory for theological reflection on sin or evil? The conciliar church never creedalized these subjects as it did Christology and the Trinity.5 As such, hamartiology, the study of sin, can be seen as a sort of theological wilderness.
But while creedal fences may be lacking, landmarks are not. In many respects, the traditional and inherited orbit of Western hamartiology centers like a galaxy around one thinker, Augustine of Hippo. The immense significance of Augustine’s doctrine of sin means that, as Stephen J. Duffy has famously said, “it would be difficult to overestimate its impact on all subsequent piety and thought.”6
The Augustinian Tide
Augustine grants no ontological status to sin, seeing it as a privation, a lack, a turning away from the true Good, which is God. In its original enactment through Adam, this privation was freely chosen and, importantly, inexplicable; lacking an ontological foundation, and being against the will of God, this first sin “cannot be explained but only described as a free defection of the defectible human from the order intended by the Creator.” Thus, by way of the first parents’ misuse of their freedom, sin is rendered a matter of human responsibility and yet also a matter of inescapable affliction for all who descend from them: “All [people] were affected and bore from birth, by propagation not imitation, the wound inflicted by Adam’s sin.”7 For Augustine, this wound consists of both a vitium, a “defect” in humanity, denoting that all desires tend now toward evil, and a reatus, a “debt” by which all are regarded as guilty transgressors even before their performance of any personal sin. Hence, all human beings deserve punishment on account of the reatus, and all humans are bound to act sinfully on account of the vitium.
As Duffy notes, “Catholic and Protestant thinkers who followed Augustine played only minor variations on his theme.”8 Indeed, although the outlook of Thomas Aquinas may be a bit more optimistic, and the outlook of Reformed theology may be a bit more pessimistic, the Augustinian tide pulled nearly all ships into a broad theological sea in which human beings are beset by an evil and guilt-bearing natural condition.9 This view has served the church ably in various times and places but has also created the context for at least three distinct furrows of theologized trauma.
Fear: Meditating on Wretchedness
Jean Delumeau’s study of traditional hamartiology from the Renaissance to the modern age remains the most magisterial volume to take up the subject. He develops a “cultural history of sin” in which fear of one’s self—one’s own sinful nature—rises to a vehement crescendo that determines the near totality of private and ecclesial life. Augustine’s views, simplified and dramatized by posterity, were much the fountainhead of these societal effects. To trek through Delumeau’s 677 pages is to be steeped in gloom, bearing witness to theological notions and literary materials saturated in a pervasive sense of human and worldly corruption. For example, Delumeau serves up historical notions like the contemptus mundi (“contempt for the world”), the danse macabre (“dance of death”), and the dies irae (“wrath of God”) alongside the concomitant torments of hell, as well as Christian textual reflections that border on sheer antinatalism, a life-denying viewpoint in which earthly life is regarded as so bad, painful, or corrupt that it would have been better to never live at all.10
In his conclusion to this dismal work, Delumeau offers the following summary:
Excessive fear as well as an excessively promoted language of guilt can paralyze, discourage, and alienate. Time and again the present study has revealed, among Catholics as much as Protestants, this temptation to despair, which especially affected individuals on their deathbeds. . . . This world is a “vale of tears”: This was the general belief of Western directors of conscience, from the church fathers to the Anglo-Saxon Puritans. Thus, from one end of this period to the other, the discourse of the church was predominantly pessimistic. . . . Augustinism, which must be cited once more, could only have brought on fear among both the instructors and pupils of the church.11
For our purposes, it is worth noting that the various forms of fear that Delumeau has described bear a close resemblance to the fundamental experience of “terror” involved in traumatic stress as famously outlined by Judith Herman. In authoritative reference works of psychiatry, traumatic stress is defined in terms of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and the threat of annihilation,” all of which ably articulate the historical Christian sentiments captured by Delumeau.12
This history demands that we consider how certain strands of traditional hamartiology may engender unnecessary terrors. Does a doctrine of sin need to instantiate or express fear that rises to the level of pathology in order to retain its theological significance? The theological fear described by Delumeau certainly resembles a kind of chronic theological trauma, given its severity and pedigree in the historic Christian imagination.
Pain: Breaking Sinful Wills
The compelling analysis of Delumeau is firmly ensconced in literary and material history. This is crucial, but doctrines do not rest immobile in the books and artwork of religious elites. They seep down into the thoughts and actions of everyday believers.
There are many practices that could be examined at the intersection of hamartiology and lived, mundane experience, but few merit as much scrutiny as that of childhood discipline. The fruit of a received understanding of the human condition is hard to overestimate in this context. In an ostensibly Christian household, the discipline that is brought to bear on a child’s spirit—and, indeed, body—carries with it the weight of the theology presumed to justify it.
Philip Greven has studied the effects of hamartiological assumptions operative in certain manifestations of the Christian household, as expressed in physical punishment. He traces patterns of childhood discipline in evangelical contexts from the late 1600s to the 1980s. Again and again, his study reveals certain aspects of traditional hamartiology to be a disturbing well of justification for the severe corporal punishment of children. When a child is a born sinner, as many Christians have believed, and thus in immediate danger of hellfire and eternal separation from God, this doctrinal stance can serve to scaffold a cultural environment in which parents see it as their holy duty to “break” the evil in the child, via the discipline of their flesh:13
The focal point of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant child-rearing has always been the emerging wills of children. Breaking the child’s will has been the central task given to parents by successive generations of preachers, whose biblically based rationales for discipline have reflected the belief that self-will is evil and sinful. . . . [They advocated] physical punishments as the “Christian” method of discipline, essential to the creation of morality, spirituality, and vital, ultimately, to the salvation of souls.14
Only readers with strong stomachs will be able to handle the first half of Greven’s book, which turns to history and biography to detail the assorted physical retributions—beltings, switchings, hours-long spankings, forced fasting—that have traversed the small bodies and nascent psyches of children, all in an effort to break their sinful wills.15
The second half of Greven’s study turns to an interdisciplinary engagement with psychology in which he asks “how the pain of punishment in childhood affects our innermost selves, our feelings and personalities.” He finds that struggles with anxiety, anger, apathy, depression, obsessive compulsion, dissociation, paranoia, sadomasochism, and authoritarianism all seem to be positively correlated with childhood experiences of corporal punishment. It is no wonder, then, that years earlier Alice Miller labeled such discipline a “poisonous pedagogy” or that scholars like Don Capps have significantly explored how the childhood abuse suffered by Augustine himself may have (in)formed his own theology.16
Disorder: Living as a “Sinner”
These studies bring us up to the present day, which sports no shortage of interest in linking a belief in human sinfulness to psychological maladjustment, often in the interest of critiquing or debunking Christianity wholesale.17 Apart from such broadsides, balanced scientific studies have found that “belief in human sinfulness is associated with greater psychiatric symptomology,” including anxiety, depression, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity, obsessive compulsion, paranoia, phobic anxiety, and somatization. These symptomatic results remain significant even when a belief in sinfulness is balanced by a concurrent belief in divine grace and forgiveness. Moreover, certain conceptions of sin seem to exhibit comorbidity with symptoms related to trauma. Thus, even apart from physical punishments in childhood, hamartiology matters a great deal—it matters for our view of God and others, and it matters for our own mental and emotional health.18
We have, then, the givens—certain expressions of traditional hamartiology and its societally rendered effects, including traumas and psychological distresses of varying scope. That’s not to say that traditional hamartiology or Augustinian hamartiology is necessarily harmful for spiritual or social life, nor that such perspectives have not yielded goods for individuals and communities in their varied expressions across church history. Instead, I mean to show that alternative approaches to hamartiology might be useful, not only because of the social, physical, and psychological effects I’ve already presented, but also because the traditional doctrine “belonged to a different age with different questions and a different apprehension of the world than shared by persons today.”19 Hamartiology can and should be reimagined afresh in each era of Christian confession. In our own time and place, what might be involved in a trauma-informed doctrine of sin? How might hamartiology be a help to trauma recovery rather than a petri dish for trauma’s growth?
The Found: Trauma and Sin in Moltmann
All dimensions of ecclesial experience, both academic and ministerial, are forcefully called in the present day to be aware of trauma and to work toward healing for those who have been shaped by it. This has led to a proliferation of theological discourse engaging both clinical traumatology and trauma studies. As evidenced above, traditional hamartiology has laid open many historical wounds. If we can agree that doctrines are contextually placed and that theology is found, or discovered, afresh in the midst of real-world grappling with surrounding context, then we can ask: what kind of hamartiology can be written for our increasingly traumatized world?20 In framing and proceeding faithfully with such a question, I suggest Jürgen Moltmann can help us.
Moltmann is a survivor of highly traumatizing circumstances. As a teenager conscripted into Adolf Hitler’s army, he froze with fear as firebombs rained down across Hamburg, and he watched in terror as his friends were blown apart. He despaired in a POW camp after his capture and was agonized to learn, with the rest of the world, of the horror of the death camps. Christianity, especially a theology of Christ’s self-emptying and solidarity in suffering, pulled him back from the brink and began to reknit his tattered soul. His subsequent theological career bears many marks of this traumatic beginning.21 Decades later, he would tellingly describe the ever-living impress of these early events:
Even today I can still feel shaken by the terror of early experiences of death, even if I am no longer consciously aware of them, and even though “the activity of my reason” tells me that these experiences are forty-seven years old, and go back to the firestorm that raged through Hamburg in 1943. But for all that, these experiences are present with me still. I can feel myself back into them, and they still plunge me into the same terror as they did then. . . . In the depths of experiences like this, there is apparently no such thing as “time the great healer,” and no merciful forgetting. So we can never say about an experience of this kind “I had it” as if it were finished and done with, something past and gone. We are continually still involved in experiencing confronting events like these, because they continually, over and over again, press for an answer.22
Methodologically, this traumatic history convinced Moltmann that theology must be humble, contextual, and forward-leaning and that these should be hallmarks of truly eschatological faith. Thus, he came to prefer calling his own doctrinal reflections theologia viatorum—a “theology on the way,” an ongoing and always revised conversation.23
Although Moltmann has been a prolific and original contributor to Trinitarian theology, ecotheology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and theological ethics, he has not developed a distinct hamartiology. Even generalized commentary on sin is rare across his thousands of published pages. This has not gone unnoticed. Joy Ann McDougall, while sympathetic to Moltmann on diverse fronts, points out his “failure to develop an adequate doctrine of sin.” In responding to McDougall, Moltmann admits the gap, but he does so by situating himself in the midst of posttraumatic circumstances:24
When I searched for a “theology after Auschwitz” in 1972, I followed the path of Christ’s passion and his descent into hell into such depths of evil that the concepts of sin, guilt, and godlessness were struck out of my hands. . . . One does not even want to understand it, because one does not want to offer any explanation. Is it sin? Is it blasphemy? Can we grasp this reality with moral and traditional theological concepts? I do not know.25
This hamartiological lacuna makes Moltmann a uniquely important interlocutor for any of us who would attempt to reimagine the doctrine of sin along trauma-informed lines, for his lacuna emerges from an honest and intense posttraumatic awareness.26 Drawing on Moltmann’s sparse-yet-powerful reflections on sin, I will outline three hamartiological exhortations that could guide future work while also highlighting important intersections with contemporary trauma studies.
Exhortation 1: Let the Victims Tell
McDougall, in critiquing Moltmann, nods toward the need for a “robust” hamartiology. In his response to her, Moltmann applauds this desire and offers a simple word of advice: “We will have to learn [about sin] from those who have suffered it.”27 In this response, he expressly recommends a handover, a commissioning, of the doctrine of sin to the victims of sin. Let the victims tell it. Let them shape the doctrine. Let their testimony become a part of theology itself rather than something on which theology comments.
Moltmann’s intuition here deeply aligns with trends in trauma therapy and trauma theology to center the necessity and power of victims’ testimonies. The witness of victims speaks to the suffering of unclosed wounds and names sin by its damage, its concrescence, rather than by abstract theory.28 The place and care of victims, as well as the relevance of theology itself, may well depend on this kind of an approach. As Shelley Rambo suggests, “Unless transcendence is rethought in and through a poetics of testimony, the suffering of our times will remain unaddressed by the discipline of theology.”29 In other words, for sin to be truly understood in a theological frame of reference in our traumatized world, we must create space for the survivors of sin to teach us about it. A trauma-informed hamartiology will be funded by the witness of survivors.30
Exhortation 2: The Therapeutic Circle
As an intentionally contextual theologian, Moltmann is always concerned with relevance and intelligibility, as well as the concrete impact of doctrine.31 This clearly colors the following rhetorical questions, which emerge in one of his rare reflections on sin:
Is there any point today in looking round for general phenomena to “convince the world of sin” and persuade men and women that in God’s sight they are sinful? Or is it better to be specific and practical, and to ask about the victims of sin, and its perpetrators?32
Moltmann’s tentative solution to this looming hamartiological irrelevance is to always place sin with attention to its context and therapeutic benefits. We have seen how a belief in sinful human nature has led to myriad practical impacts in the world, but in the past the apostle Paul worried about Torah compliance, Martin Luther worried about the pangs of conscience, and Søren Kierkegaard worried about the loss of authentic identity—these concerns mattered greatly in their time and place, but of course they all differ, in varying degrees, from the many concrete concerns of human communities around the world today.33 Sin should be primarily discussed with a practical aim of mending concrete and contextually specific human suffering.
And Moltmann further notes that our engagements with sin should be clearly connected to the whole Christian story of redemption:
Functionally, the doctrine of sin belongs within the therapeutic circle which embraces knowledge of Christ, knowledge of our own misery, and the new life in faith. Outside this therapeutic circle, and in isolation from it, the doctrine of sin does nothing but harm.34
Alongside the exhortation to make trauma-sensitive hamartiology subservient to the testimony of victims, this exhortation means it must also be situated in living relationship to other trauma-sensitive doctrine, and only insofar as it communicates life to the victims, the survivors, of sin. A trauma-informed hamartiology is not only funded by the testimony of survivors; it is oriented toward a therapeutic outcome. This point is vitally important on two fronts: (1) it further empowers survivors, which is the first and necessary step toward recovery for those who have been deeply wounded by the sins of others; and (2) it necessitates the formation of a broader basis of trauma-sensitive doctrine, within which so-called sin can be meaningfully and therapeutically discussed.35
Exhortation 3: Life on Both Sides
Although trauma studies have appropriately and valiantly centered the voice and experience of victims, the gospel, whatever else its contextual outworkings, must be universal, insofar as it purports to tell a plausible story and summon real people to formational change in the midst of their lived self-understanding. Trauma-informed theology must therefore speak not only to the victims but also to the perpetrators, the complicit, the ignorant, and everyone else in between. Trauma theology so far has tended to focus only on articulating God-talk in light of victims’ experiences. What would it mean for theology to speak of sin in light not only of the traumatized, but also the traumatizers?
Although the victim-perpetrator binary is simplistic in several regards, and should not be taken as a final frame of reference for all cases, it remains a generally useful taxonomy for understanding the effects of sin in terms of both guilt and innocent wounding. Moltmann, as a post-Auschwitz German, is intensely aware of trauma’s distortionary power for both victim and victimizer: “An act of violence destroys life on both sides, but in different ways. . . . The person who commits the act becomes inhumane and unjust, the victim is dehumanized and deprived of his or her rights.” He notes that theology must ask “about a power which frees the perpetrators and those who come after them from self-hate, and makes them capable of life in righteousness and justice.” Moltmann here verges close to contemporary reflections on perpetrator trauma, albeit many years before that discourse formally developed. But as a German theologian, he certainly anticipated these current developments, as much recent work on perpetrator trauma centers on the post-Holocaust German experience. Somehow, and with admitted difficulty, trauma-informed hamartiology should attempt to recognize and name the malforming nature of sin on all sides—not only for the executed but also the executioners; not only the enslaved but also the enslavers; not only the abused but also the abusers.36 Only in this way can hamartiology become truly trauma-informed, pointing toward what McDougall calls a “robust” doctrine of sin.
This essay stands at a juncture between the formal exercise of theology and the still-burgeoning fields of clinical traumatology and trauma studies. I am advocating for serious consideration that the old ways of construing certain doctrines no longer land in the world: if not reimagined, they may promote harm, irrelevance, or both.37 And so this study is an invitation to reimagine our doctrine(s) of sin. The Augustinian legacy is mixed, and it can be reasonably linked to diverse instances of theologized trauma. In both reflecting on these traumas and considering a fresh path, Moltmann presents us with humble yet important exhortations for a trauma-informed hamartiology that listens to victims, treats sin therapeutically, and looks to trauma’s harm in the lives of perpetrators themselves. When the given of a broken human condition truly meets these found exhortations, perhaps hamartiology may emerge as hope instead of harm.38
- Jones, Worlds within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000), 35; and relatedly, Jones, Theological Worlds: Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1989). Moreover, we should not underestimate the role of cultural location in the shaping of the reimaginative process. I think of William James’s timeless observations on “live” and “dead” options in belief and the way those options depend on our surrounding cultural narrative: James, “The Will to Believe,” in The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York, NY: Longmans, Green, 1896), 2–8.
- Quash, Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit (London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), xiv, italics in original. Found Theology is an excellent resource on the subject of historical reimagination in theology, and Elizabeth Johnson provides hearty analyses of many current (re-)imaginings of God in Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2007).
- See Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2015), especially chapters 2 and 6.
- My framing of theologized trauma borrows the logical and diagnostic grammar of Resmaa Menakem’s racialized trauma, in which biologically experienced and culturally ensconced traumatic events are seen as rendered within a nexus of ideas and values that can work to scaffold, justify, or defend such events and experiences; see My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (Las Vegas, NV: Central Recovery, 2017), especially chapter 1. For Menakem’s work, of course, the nexus of ideas and values concerns race and related notions, whereas for my suggestions here, theologized trauma orbits around doctrinal religious notions about God, humanity, et cetera.
- No “ecumenical council” ever delineated a full-scale doctrine of sin, but minor councils like Carthage (418–419) and Orange (529) codified hamartiological details that reflected the supreme influence of Augustine.
- Duffy, “Our Hearts of Darkness: Original Sin Revisited,” Theological Studies 49 (1988): 597.
- Duffy, “Our Hearts,” 599 and 602; see also 601.
- Duffy, “Our Hearts,” 604.
- Tatha Wiley comments on the pervasive influence of the Augustinian model: “[After Augustine], what was adopted by the patristic church was more than the idea of original sin. Adopted as the church’s teaching about Christ’s redemption and the church’s sacramental life was a particular interpretation of Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12 as divinely revealed teaching about original sin, an anthropology of rational moral nature, and an historical worldview encompassing original blessedness, fallen nature, and restored nature” (Wiley, Original Sin: Origins, Developments, Contemporary Meanings [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2002], 75).
- Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th–18th Centuries, trans. Eric Nicholson (New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1990), 555. For more on the “terrors that tormented early modern Europe before the discovery of the ‘unconscious’” including “the ‘horror’ of sin and the ‘obsession’ with damnation” which “eventually led an entire society to condemn material life and daily concerns,” see Sin and Fear, 3; for the influence of Augustine, see 9–12; for contemptus mundi, see 12–34; for danse macabre, see 72–114; for dies irae, see 52–54; for the torments of hell, see 493–504; and for antinatalism, including the following passage that Delumeau shares from Meditatio de humana conditione by either Saint Bernard or Hugh of Saint Victor, see 44, 46, and 65: “I come from parents who made of me a damned one before even I was born. Sinners begot a sinner in sin, and nourished him in sin. Wretches brought another wretch into the light of day. I received nought from them but misfortune, sin, and the corrupt body I wear. I hurry to those who have already departed through the death of their bodies. When I look at their graves, I see nothing but ashes and worms, stench and horror. . . . What am I? A man born of a slimy humor. . . . After which I was thrown into the exile of this world, wailing and crying. And here I am, already dying and filled with iniquity and abomination” (44).
- Delumeau, Sin and Fear, 555–56 and 557.
- Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 33. Also, see Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 33–50; and K. C. Andreasen, “Postraumatic Stress Disorder,” in Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 4th ed., ed. H. I. Kaplan and B. J. Sadock (Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1985), 918–24.
- Greven, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990); see also Greven, The Protestant Temperament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988), especially chapter 2. Although trained as a historian, Greven is well aware of the theological dimensions of his study. He writes, “Patterns of punishment correspond closely to people’s conceptions of God and to their attitudes toward the most basic theological issues” (Greven, Spare the Child, 13).
- Greven, Spare the Child, 65 and 61, emphasis added. See also Greven, Protestant Temperament, 32–43.
- On breaking the will, see Greven, Spare the Child, 60–72. For a recounting of the trends and varieties in punishments, see 19–96. For a recent analysis linking conservative religious ideology to corporal punishment, see Christopher G. Ellison and Matt Bradshaw, “Religious Beliefs, Sociopolitical Ideology, and Attitudes Toward Corporal Punishment,” Journal of Family Issues 30: 320–40.
- Greven, Spare the Child, 122; and Miller, For Your Own Good, 2nd ed, trans. Hildegard and Hunter Hannum (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), 3f. Also see Greven, Spare the Child, 122–204; Miller, For Your Own Good, chapters 1 and 2; and Capps, The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 21–36. The historical fact of Augustine’s childhood experiences raises the other side of the diagnostic coin, traumatized theology, rather than the focus of this present article, theologized trauma.
- See, for example, Albert Ellis, in a broadly negative and still-cited book, who declared that a belief in human sinfulness was “the direct and indirect cause of virtually all neurotic disturbance” (Ellis, Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy [New York, NY: Lyle Stuart, 1962], 146).
- Jeremy E. Uecker, C. G. Ellison, K. J. Flannelly, and A. M. Burdette, “Belief in Human Sinfulness, Belief in Experiencing Divine Forgiveness, and Psychiatric Symptoms,” Review of Religious Research 58, no. 1 (March 2016): 6, but also see 7, 15, and 13. Uecker et al. find that belief in divine forgiveness lessens the severity of psychiatric symptoms; this lessening is especially pronounced in the case of anxiety, phobic anxiety, and hostility but less overt in the case of interpersonal sensitivity, depression, somatization, paranoia, and obsessive compulsion (18–22). Conversely, others have found that a traditional belief in human sinfulness is associated with mistrust of others and a pessimism about human activity; see John D. Martin, Garland E. Blair, Robert M. Nevels, and Mary M. Brant, “A Study of the Relationship between a Personal Philosophy of Human Nature (Good or Evil) and Self-Esteem,” Psychological Reports 61 (1987): 447–51; and J. Mirowsky and Catherine Ross, “Social Patterns of Distress,” Annual Review of Sociology 12 (1986): 23–45.
- Wiley, Original Sin, 128.
- For examples of books answering the calling for trauma awareness and healing, see Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009); Shelley Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010); and Jennifer Baldwin, Trauma-Sensitive Theology: Thinking Theologically in the Era of Trauma (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018). For examples of integrative works by Christian counselors who are educated at the intersection of theology and trauma, see Heather D. Gingrich, Restoring the Shattered Self: A Christian Counselor’s Guide to Complex Trauma (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013); Scott Harrower, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2019); Scott Harrower, Joshua Cockayne, and Preston Hill, Dawn of Sunday: The Trinity and Trauma-Safe Church, New Studies in Theology and Trauma (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, forthcoming); and Hill, ed., Christ and Trauma: Theology East of Eden (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, forthcoming). For the contrast between doctrine and theology, see Quash, Found Theology, 2–30.
- See Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2009), 15–18 and 26–31. For more on Moltmann’s Christology, see Youngs, The Way of the Kenotic Christ: The Christology of Jürgen Moltmann (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019). For more on Moltmann’s soteriology, especially his universalism, see Youngs, “Swallowed by the Earth.”
- Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992), 21. Moltmann’s description here reveals a symptomology of trauma, especially the intrusive “terror” of the past being present to him just as it was in the original events; see Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 37–42. Other dimensions of Moltmann’s life reveal further symptomatic traits of traumatization, which I discuss more fully in Youngs, “Swallowed by the Earth.”
- See Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Way and Forms of Christian Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000), 28–42 and 87–181; Youngs, Way of the Kenotic Christ, 13–18; and Moltmann, “Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda,” in Toward the Future of Reformed Theology: Tasks, Topics, Traditions, eds. David Willis and Michael Welker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 120–35.
- McDougall, Pilgrimage of Love: Moltmann on the Trinity and Christian Life (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004), 148; see further 148–51. I have noted that Moltmann is a survivor of wartime trauma, as indeed he is, but he is also careful to note his status in Hitler’s army as a perpetrator, albeit one far removed from the intentionality of fully ideological Nazism. See, for example, his comments in Spirit of Life, 132–38.
- Moltmann, foreword to Pilgrimage of Love, by McDougall, xiv.
- See Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 20–21; and Rambo, “Theopoetics of Trauma,” 224–25.
- McDougall, Pilgrimage of Love, 147–51; and Moltmann, foreword to Pilgrimage of Love, xiv.
- For the centering of victim testimonies, see Chopp, “Theology and the Poetics of Testimony,” Criterion 37, no. 1 (1998): 1–12; Rambo, “Theopoetics of Trauma,” 223–39; Rambo, Spirit and Trauma, 164–69. For a classic text on remembrance and testimony in addressing trauma, see Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 175–95. And for the quiescent Gnosticism (and thus irrelevance) that is embedded in theological discourse by excessive abstraction, see Oliver Davies, Paul D. Janz, and Clemens Sedmak, Transformation Theology: Church in the World (London, UK: T&T Clark, 2007); liberation theology, of course, speaks to this as well.
- Rambo, “Theopoetics of Trauma,” 228.
- What I am outlining here is similar to what recent trauma theologians have designated as the second principle of a trauma-safe church, namely, that the community listens to survivors and believes them. See Harrower, Cockayne, and Hill, Dawn of Sunday.
- Again, on these motives in the method of Moltmann, see Youngs, Way of the Kenotic Christ, 8–27.
- Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 127.
- Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 127. On Paul’s Torah compliance concerns, see, famously, Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (July 1963): 199–215. On Luther’s focus on conscience and anxiety, see recently Youngs, “A ‘Therapeutic’ Atonement? A Psychological Paradigm of the Cross in Dialogue with Martin Luther,” Anglican Theological Review 102, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 399–408. On Kierkegaard’s understanding of sin as a possible counterwitness to the Augustinian vein, see Jason Mahn, Fortunate Fallibility: Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 127–28. I have amended Kohl’s translation slightly.
- See Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 133: “The first principle of recovery is the empowerment of the survivor”; and Baldwin, Trauma-Sensitive Theology, 91–94.
- Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 132 and 133. The complexities attending the victim-perpetrator binary are well-illustrated across the range of essays in Warwick Middleton, Adah Sachs, and Martin J. Dorahy, eds., The Abused and the Abuser: Victim-Perpetrator Dynamics (New York, NY: Routledge, 2018). Theological reflection on this binary can be found in Harrower, Cockayne, and Hill, Dawn of Sunday. For a complex elaboration on the multivalent effects of sin in terms of guilt, shame, and “stains on the soul,” see Eleonore Stump, Atonement (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019). For more on this dynamic in Moltmann, see my upcoming piece “Swallowed by the Earth.” For examples of contemporary works on perpetrator trauma, see Bernhard Giesen, “The Trauma of Perpetrators,” in Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, ed. J. Jeffrey C. Alexander (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2004), 112–54; and Giesen, Triumph and Trauma (Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2016), 109–54. And for more on the traumatic effects of sin for victims and perpetrators, see Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 132–38; and Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 128–29.
- This is part of the case made by Baldwin in Trauma-Sensitive Theology. See also, Rambo, Spirit and Trauma, chapter 1; and Jones, Trauma and Grace, chapter 1.
- Flickers of this hope can be perceived already. Jones has provided a moving, though not doctrinally specific, reflection on sin in Trauma and Grace, 101–27. Baldwin posits a brief trauma-informed hamartiology in Trauma-Sensitive Theology, 108–18. Although the statement is short, it promotes several fruitful lines of thinking, especially in its explicit utilization of internal family systems terminology and conceptions. I am presently working toward a book-length statement on trauma-informed hamartiology with my coauthor Anna Downer Youngs, and that book will include Baldwin as an important interlocutor, alongside others like Richard Beck, The Slavery of Death (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013); Ted Peters, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), especially chapter 2; Frederica Halligan, “Narcissism, Spiritual Pride, and Original Sin,” Journal of Religion and Health 36, no. 4 (December 1997): 305–19; as well as many of the voices cited in this present article.