Robert A. Heinlein stated that “Age is not an accomplishment, and youth is not a sin.” However, the current legislation surrounding youth minority in the United States implies that our concept of minority and the Christian concept of sin are not unrelated. Much as Christians surrender control to their God, minors are forced to surrender control to custodians and adult officials. Where Christians are expected to be pious, youth are expected to be reverent of authority. When searching for the rationale behind laws that disenfranchise youth, it is important to trace them to their source. Though the United States may be nominally secular, laws are passed by people: people who have emotions and biases and who, overwhelmingly, subscribe to some variant of religious ideology.
Minors in the United States are; through a system of curfews, closed juvenile courts, custodial subjugation, and behavior modification camps; systematically denied seven of the eight personal rights set forth in the Bill of Rights: the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to due process, the right to a public trial, the right to trial by jury, and the right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment (the only one of the eight personal rights afforded to minors, the right to protection from involuntary quartering of troops, is generally nonapplicable, as minors cannot enter into the contracts necessary to purchase property). Proponents of these age-based deprivations claim they are not meant to punish a crime or sin, but to protect those who do not yet know proper from improper behavior and so are unprepared to handle such privileges. While on its surface, this argument may appear to sever any link between the disabilities of minority and the concept of sin, further analysis of the Christian classifications of sin reveals an undeniable parallel.
Colloquial usage of the term “sin” hints at a definition interchangeable with that of “crime”; “sinner” is often defined as one who has committed a specific malicious act and is now deserving of a specific repercussive punishment. This is actual sin. Original sin, as opposed to actual sin, refers to a necessary state of humanity, a tendency toward actual sin that is intrinsic to human nature. Original sin should not be punished, only accepted as a fundamental limitation of humanity. It is here that the conceptual link between original sin and protective age restrictions lies: in the shared relegation of human minds as inherently incapable of producing goodness or consistent propriety, in the shared judgment based not on personal actions but on demographical existence.
It is often argued that the restrictions of minority, in addition to being necessary societal safety measures, are not true curtailings of human liberty. Yes, all people are entitled to their own benign self-determination, but in an adultcentric world, adults are people and children are merely those affected by the unfortunate condition of youth. In this society, “youth” is not a personal classification, but something akin to a disease. The parallels between this treatment of minors and the Christian treatment of sinners is no more evident than in the saying “love the sinner, hate the sin”. This phrase draws a distinction between a people and their actions. We are all sinners, the rationale goes, so while an actual sin is worthy of hatred, one who has committed an actual sin is no more sinful than those who are sinful only by nature. American minority laws are enabled by the artificial distinction that is drawn between youths and their youthfulness. The disabilities of minority are meant to suppress youthfulness; any effect on the lives of youth is purely incidental. Where the notion of removing an adult person’s ability to make personal decisions is seen as a repugnant stifling of freedom, the disabilities of minority are seen as enabling freedom by preventing children from committing actions inspired by an inherent and debilitating mental condition.
Some may find the concept of original sin quite hopeless: if we are all necessarily sinners, how can we ever hope to be good people? The answer provided to us by Christianity is simple: surrender ourselves to God. While we are sinful by nature, God is pure and redeeming by nature. To be good, we must first admit that we do not have the capacity to independently determine what is good; we must then look to God for guidance in every situation. Youth find themselves in a similar quandary. If they are all necessarily youthful, how can they ever hope to be mature? The answer provided to them by society is simple: surrender themselves to adult authority. To be mature, youth must realize that they are inherently youthful. They must accept that their own judgment, marred by hormones and inexperience, is not to be trusted. They must understand their congenital failings and respond by adhering completely to the legal and societal restrictions set in place by powerful adults to assist youth in their prostration.
Sinners cannot hope to be truly good; they must settle for least-bad, a state achieved by acceptance of God and adherence to his teachings. However, this struggle is only temporary. The highest Christian goal is to maintain the least-bad state for the duration of life, whereupon they will be accepted to Heaven, their original sin will be dissolved, and they will at last be truly good. Youth cannot hope to be truly mature; they must settle for least youthful. As youthfulness is inherent to youth, this can only be achieved by full internalization of adult directives and complete abandonment of self. The highest goal of youth is to maintain this repressive state for the duration of minority, whereupon they will be accepted to college, get a well-paying job, and at last be truly mature.
Why have we accepted these arrangements? Who has created them and who is benefiting from their continued existence? One trait that truly is inherent to humanity is the ability to be easily controlled by fear. We are afraid of burning in hell. We are afraid of being ridiculed. There is no way in life to permanently eliminate these risks. Should our minds stray from the teachings of Christ, our ticket to Heaven can be cancelled. Should we desire to leave our niche in the pyramid of authority, to forgo college or quit our jobs or question the way of society, our status of maturity can be revoked and the respect that comes with it lost. It is a system of fear and a system that perpetuates itself, and the only beneficiaries are those at the very top: dictator, dean, or deity.
This piece is a couple years old and was originally written as part of a portfolio for college applications. Hopefully, it’s aged well.