Thanks to you Richard for continuing this fruitful conversation.
In my view, the empirical fact is that “many sinned”, and not that “all sinned”, and much less that “all will sin” (how could you have evidence for this?). As you very well remark Gen 4:6 explicitly states that even after the Fall everyone is free NOT to sin. Gen 6:5 certainly states that antediluvian humanity was infected by sin, but even then “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen 6:8-9): Noah was not infected by his contemporaries’ sins. From Scripture one could also derive that others (Abel, Enoch, Melchizedek, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus’ Mother Mary and her husband Joseph, Simeon and Anna) did not transgress God’s commandments. Nonetheless we acknowledge according to Christian faith that “after the Fall everyone is in need of Redemption”, and this is the real meaning of the expression that every human person is generated in the state of original sin. (I think the cases of Melchizedek and Jesus’ Mother deserve particular analysis, but this a different question).
You also fittingly refer to the “Eastern Orthodox understanding”, according to which infants are baptized to be cleansed from sin although “infants are not yet sinners”. We find this understanding also in other Churches (Catholic, Anglican, etc.)
Theology, like other serious knowledge, has to be logically consistent. So, in my view, any correct explanation of original sin has to agree with the two following Principles:
- Everyone is free NOT to sin.
- Everyone after the Fall is generated in need of Redemption (or: is generated in state of original sin).
I fully agree with you that Principle 2) is not the consequence of genetic inheritance (original sin is not transmitted like a genetic disease). Notice that Augustine’s main intention is to grant the principles 1) and 2) above, although his formulations may sometimes convey the (erroneous) interpretation of “biological inheritance”.
By contrast I don’t agree to the view that Principle 2) is a consequence of sins other than the first sin in human history, and in particular sins of other contemporary human persons (sin does not propagate like sort of spiritual “contagion” from sinners to innocents). In other words: what matters for the need of Redemption in principle 2) is the first sin in human history (which is not necessarily the same as the sin of the first human person), and in this sense one can say that “all have sinned in the first sinner”.
So the crucial question seems to be: What is the reason for Principle 2)?
In my view the answer to this question is given in Romans 11:32. This point is discussed here and here (where by the way I extensively refer to your work The Liberating Image). But I think it would be highly useful if we could find a way for discussing this interpretation in this Blog with so knowledgeable people as well.