Centralia, Pennsylvania. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either, until I borrowed a copy of Weird Pennsylvania, a new book which explores the bizarre stuff that happens in our beloved Commonwealth. Recently, Centralia has created quite a buzz. In fact, the recent horror flic, Silent Hill (roughly based on the same-titled video game), was inspired by the town of Centralia.
So what can we learn from this odd, near-ghostlike town in Eastern PA? Well, theologically speaking, Centralia is a picture of what Christians call Original Sin.
When many Christians talk about sin, they are really talking about behavior (cheating, being mean, lusting, taking staplers from work, etc.). Such folks are–in Centralia-speak–concerned with cracked asphalt, dead forests, and emptying houses. And these people think a great deal about how to deal with these persistent problems. The solution is a Remake Centralia Campaign, with proposals to fill up the steaming cracks in the streets, uproot the dead trees and plant new ones, and start flashy advertising campaigns to get people living in Centralia once again. All the while the hidden fires continue to rage.
But when people equate sin with bad behavior, they make a tragic mistake. In the 15th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the nature of Sin with people that believed that if people could purify their behavior, they would become holy and God would bless them because of it. Here’s what Jesus says about this perspective:
“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’.”