Once I heard a middle-aged lay preacher declare how uncomfortable she had always been with teachings about sin; now, she knew why: she had been sexually abused as a child, which made her not a sinner but a victim. She really seemed to believe this was a satisfactory solution to the problem of sin. To liberal Christians generally, even to those who are not survivors of childhood trauma, the idea of sin has become more and more offensive and its definition further and further separated from commonsense about human life and human nature: that all of us have experienced mistreatment and gotten our own back with interest, one way or another. Maturity can’t come about without the recognition of our own appalling behavior—and any special pleading for it—as just that. The Judaeo-Christian emphasis on pitiless self-examination—supported by the confidence in God’s love and care—is also the only possibility I know of (and I bet I’ve seen every kind of New Age spiritual-but-not-religious fad there is) for ending eons-old cycles of unthinking exploitation and revenge and becoming a species worthy of the belief that God created it for a transcendent purpose.

— Sarah Ruden, who never fails to provoke and instruct me.