Born this way…

Here are some thoughts I jotted down a while back about whether we are responsible for our feelings and dispositions even if we do not choose them or act upon them. This matter comes up generally in theological discussions of guilt and culpability, often with the assertion that we cannot be held morally responsible for how we feel but only for how we act. This perspective is frequently expanded to vindicate same sex attraction by suggesting that the absence of volition also removes culpability. The follow-on to that suggestion is that such feelings and inclinations must be viewed as innocent and natural if they are inborn. Quite apart from the ethical incoherence of this latter expanded position, the former assertion, that we are not morally responsible for our dispositions or feelings, is entirely contrary to biblical morality.

Heart sins are still sins even if they are not taken to the level of overt actions. For example, this is Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5.21ff regarding heart dispositions of hatred and overt actions of murder, in Matthew 5.27ff regarding heart dispositions of lust and overt actions of adultery, in Matthew 5.33ff regarding heart dispositions of duplicity and overt lies. James teaches us that overt sins arise out of sinful dispositions or desires (1.13ff; 4.1ff). As we confess in Westminster Larger Catechism 99 part 2, the Moral Law of God addresses inward dispositions of the soul and not only outward actions. ‘2. That it is spiritual, and so reacheth the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures.’ (Romans 7.14; Deuteronomy 6.5; Matthew 22.37-39; Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37-39, 43-44)

Of course, this is part of what folks find so offensive in this context. If I’m born this way, they say, then I can’t be held responsible because I didn’t choose. This is one reason why Reformed Protestants are sometimes despised: we teach the doctrine of original sin; that is, we are conceived already guilty of Adam’s first sin, and corrupted in our whole nature, apart from any act of our own will (Westminster Shorter Catechism 18).

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