Ultimately this kind of reasoning results in a pessimistic vision of human nature not grounded in the creation theology of Genesis. It also leads one to imagine that God requires the painful challenges of human life as retributive payback for Adam and Eve's original mistake. Even more dramatic, God demanded the death of Jesus-the New Adam-as recompense for Adam's sin. Of course, various Christian denominations, as well as other religious traditions, offer different points of view on these matters.
Islam's view on the history of human-divine relations is comparable to that of Judaism. That is, the Qur'an, like the Hebrew Bible, recognizes human infidelities, while simultaneously holding the conviction of the unlimited forgiving capacity of Allah or Yahweh to call forth humans from ignorance and ingratitude toward right relation with the Divine and each other. There is little in Islam and Judaism by way of formal doctrine on humanity's inherent disposition to sin, which is parallel to Christianity's notion of original sin. There is, however, a story within Islamic tradition in which angels remove the heart of Muhammad and wash away any stain of sin from it, thus symbolizing the Prophet's special status as the sinless, ideally suited Messenger of Allah. Buddhism and Hinduism recognize the deepseated nature of the fallen state of humanity, but this is conceived as the product of thousands of lifetimes of human habit. In these Eastern religious traditions, a human life span is but one in a potentially infinite number of rebirths. This is the meaning of reincarnation. Any given life span produces moral and physical decay as human beings find themselves combating the powerful forces of evil and delusion. Such habits can only be purified and redeemed through the processes of reincarnation. A common saying is that Buddhism teaches the ultimate perfectibility of human nature, but it does so in a historical framework that recognizes that we are unlikely to make much progress in just one life span.
Sin might best be placed in the theological category of mystery, mystery meaning something about which there is always more to know. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul captures the mysterious dilemma that confounds many human beings, irrespective of religious tradition: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me . . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I do . . ." (Rom. 7:15-20). This condition of our own inability, at times, to choose and do the better, nobler thing is a transcultural phenomenon of human experience that is part and parcel of everyone's life.
Modern depth psychologist Carl Jung helped illumine this mysterious human condition by exploring the reality of the "shadow" in human personality. The shadow is that which is hidden from the individual's consciousness and resides in the unconscious, unavailable until the person takes responsibility for the whole of their lives. Far too often people flee from the claims of the shadow since it holds the undesirable parts of one's personality; those ways of being we prefer not to own or examine and therefore repress. Eventually the desire for growth and impulse toward individuation urge the individual to pay attention to the shadow and bring its contents to light. The shadow in human personality is not in and of itself sinful; refusal to deal with the reality of the shadow often results, however, in the sinful situations of egocentric patterns, excessive self-righteousness, intolerance, interpersonal strife, and violent behaviors-all by-products of the unattended shadow in human personality.
Sin is basically understood as the inevitable human frailty of not being continuously perfect. Sin is seen as consciously or unconsciously falling into patterns that "miss the mark" (the words for sin in the New Testament) and cause the runner in faith to stumble. Sin is living in estrangement from one's essence, seriously disorients right relations, and always has interpersonal and social consequences. Becoming entangled in sinful patterns of living necessarily result in a dislocation from loving, right, just, and reciprocal relationships. Those entrapped by sin experience a hardness of heart. Tendencies toward self-justification abound, often preventing sinners from seeing the light of critical self-examination that might lead to repentance, which happens under the power of grace. Sin pushes a person egocentrically inward, spiritually backward, and ultimately deathward, which is the real meaning of the term mortal sin.