Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review of Born Bad; original sin and the making of the Western World by James Boyce

It is a treat for the reader that a subject as bold, intricate and dense as original sin  has been examined by the eloquent James Boyce.  In his hands what may seem a terrifying subject is thoroughly examined and put through its historical, theological and psychological paces.

Born Bad; original sin and the making of the Western World traces the progress of the notion of original sin through Western Christianity, beginning with St Augustine, the man considered to be the father of Western Christianity through to the present day. 
St Augustine began to include the teaching of original sin and The Fall of man in his rhetoric following an unfortunate mistranslation of the bible; “(h)aving limited Greek, Augustine adopted the mistranslation of Paul used in the fourth-century Latin Bible known as the Vulgate, which state that “all men had sinned in Adam." It is remarkable to consider exactly how persuasive a notion that is not even in the bible has become central to the Western Christian psyche. The book charts this path chronologically, tracing how original sin has become a central tenet in Western Christianity.

As he recounts the history of this doctrine, Boyce introduces us to some of the fascinating characters who expounded or, as heretics, questioned it.

In tracing the lineage of this doctrine with obvious energy and interest, Boyce has given us many profiles of historical moments, contemporaneous thought and the people involved in progressing this doctrine – or otherwise. The book plays host to a wide range of characters,  for whom Boyce has an authorial respect for thinkers, heretical and otherwise, who have preceded him. 
Boyce’s obvious affection for and interest in Luther and the Reformation is on show in the chapter ‘The Meaning of Marrying a Nun.’ This chapter explains the greater effects of the Reformation and the thought and rationale behind it  and the reader is introduced to Luther as a person and to some of the aspects of day to day life in Luther’s house.

Another of the historical characters Boyce offers us is Julian of Norwich, the first woman to have written a book in the English language. This beautifully titled book, Revelations of Divine Love  was the product of meditations on her visions for twenty years and she fell on the heretical side of The Fall, with a belief in God’s love and the intrinsic purity of humans.

James Boyce is a two-time winner of the Tasmanian Literary Prize for two earlier works Van Diemen’s Land; a history  and 1835; the founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia.   These books have also been recognised with other national prizes and critical accolades from around the world. His preceding books, while taking in colonial Australia are researched and related in the same fascinating and readable style. The attention to detail propels the case that he puts forward subtly, if at all, leaving the reader well equipped to draw their own conclusions.  

This is not a book that is at all easy to classify- myth, modern thought, psychology, theology, history, biography, social commentary are just some of the ways it could be defined. and as a book that both recounts huge historical and religious concepts in such a personable and descriptive manner it is both a challenge and an absolute delight to read. 

Here's the very first book related interview I did! James Boyce discussing Van Diemen's Land

First published in TasWeekend in The Mercury September 13, 2014
Born Bad
by James Boyce
Black Inc


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