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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 26, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2006

Geoffrey Rees
Pages 61-91
DOI: 10.5840/jsce20062624

Original Sin in the Original Position
A Kierkegaardian Reading of John Rawls's Writings on Justice

AMONG THEOLOGICAL WRITERS, MANY HAVE SUSPECTED THAT JOHN Rawls's writings on justice add up to a de facto manifesto of secularism. His writings especially provoke anxiety about the potential exclusion of theological affirmations from public political discourse. Much of this anxiety focuses on his concept of the "original position" from which principles of justice are negotiated. Consideration of the anxiety provoked by this concept, however, suggests that it is theologically richer than Rawls's critics allow. A turn to Søren Kierkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety enables interpretation of the original position as a device of representation that identifies every individual with the fact of original sin. Crucial to this interpretation is Kierkegaard's description of original sin in terms of anxiety that arises from the innocence that is ignorance in the comparable original position of Adam. Where anxiety arises, sin follows. Where sin arises, the need for justice follows. Reading Rawls and Kierkegaard together consequently offers insight into the relevance of the history of the doctrine of original sin to contemporary theorization of justice.

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