One of the most psychologically flawed
theological concepts held in the Christian Tradition is the concept of the Original
Sin. We shall seek to demonstrate that this concept is merely a projection of
our inability to rationalize our ideal of a perfect God of faith; with, our
recognition of a seemingly flawed humanity. The concept of original sin, at its
core, merely rationalizes man's inhumanity toward man by placing the ultimate
responsibility for our human failures in the hands of the first humans of
consciousness. The Doctrine proclaims that from the moment of our conception we
are stained by the sin of our first parents, and, until Baptism or faith washes
the stain away (earned by the crucifixion of Christ on
From this religious dogma comes all sorts of theological arguments, which actually discourage us from a more perfect union with God, because they offer excuses for our failures and shortcomings. This ideal also implies that the world is less than perfect, because, in the sin of our first parents we were cast from a real paradise and relegated to this lesser existence of life that we now experience.
How often do we hear people give as an excuse for their shortcomings: "I'm only human"? This obviously implies that the human character is weak, and the flaws in that human character are a part of our basic nature, which Augustine stated was a result of the original sin. Indirectly, such ideas suggest that we are not truly responsible for our own actions. That, because of the so-called "weakness", which we inherited from our first parents, goodness becomes the oddity for the human condition. Theology, and the literature based upon it, has perpetuated the idea of this stain for thousands of years in the doctrine of Original Sin.
Simply stated (different sects have varied forms of this premise): the doctrine states that because Adam and Eve disobeyed a command from God in the Garden of Eden that the whole human race inherits the stain of that transgression and its consequences of suffering, death, and a weakening of the human will. And despite the Redemption Doctrine, which states, that Jesus died and redeemed us for not only that transgression, but for all our transgressions, we still inherit the sin and need baptism or faith to share in that redemption. In other words, the redemption in reality is conditional.
While the concept of redemption is a section unto itself, we must touch upon it here because the concept of original sin is the cornerstone of the idea that we needed to be redeemed. Without the idea of original sin, there is no need for redemption, and without the redemption doctrine, there is no support for the original sin doctrine.
Ironically, it is the Redemption Doctrine, which demanded a rationalization, which lead to the Original Sin Doctrine in the minds of the early Christian Faith. The story of Adam and Eve was not always viewed as the fall of mankind. In fact, it was really an early church father, Augustine (354-430A.D.), who cemented together this idea of original sin and its implications upon Christianity for centuries to come.
The truth is, until then, Christianity seen things much differently. A modern Scholar, Elaine Pagels explains:
"...I came to see that for nearly the first four hundred years of our era, Christians regarded "FREEDOM as the primary message of Genesis 1-3. Freedom in its many forms, including free will, freedom from demonic powers, freedom from social and sexual obligations, freedom from tyrannical government and from fate; and self mastery as the source of such freedom. With Augustine, as I show in Chapter Five, this message changed.
(E. Pagels, ADAM, EVE, AND THE SERPENT, intro p.XXII, 1988, Random House)
But Augustine's logic gave new dimension to the tale:
In a world in which Christians were not only free to follow their faith but were officially encouraged to do so, Augustine came to read the story of Adam and Eve very differently than had the majority of his Jewish and Christian predecessors. What they had read for centuries as a story of human freedom became, in his hands, a story of human bondage. Most Jews and Christians had agreed that God gave humankind in creation the gift of moral freedom, and that Adam's misuse of it brought death upon his progeny. BUT AUGUSTINE WENT FURTHER: Adam's sin not only caused our mortality, but cost us moral freedom, irreversibly corrupted our experience of sexuality (which Augustine tended to identify with original sin), and made us incapable of genuine political freedom. Furthermore, Augustine read back into Paul's letters his own teaching of the moral importance of the human will, along with his sexualized interpretation of sin.
(Ibid. intro p. XXVI)
And Augustine's new perception on Genesis would have a profound effect on the Christian world from that point on:
Augustine's theory of original sin not only proved politically expedient, since it persuaded many of his contemporaries that human beings universally needed external government - which meant, in their case, both a Christian state and an imperially supported church - but also offered an analysis of human nature that became, for better or worse, the heritage of all subsequent generations of western Christians and the major influence of their psychological and political thinking. Even today, many people, Catholics and Protestants alike, regard the story of Adam and Eve as virtually synonymous with original sin. During Augustine's own lifetime, as we shall see, various Christians objected to his radical theory, and others bitterly contested it; but within the next few generations, Christians who held to more traditional views of human freedom were themselves condemned as heretics.
(ibid.- intro XXVI)
So it becomes hindsight, not the original
understanding or intent of Genesis, that is the basis
of the Original Sin Doctrine. Augustine, among other problems, had to make
sense of the bloodbath that took place on
The problem with Augustine's beliefs were not in seeing human weaknesses, but rather, in projecting their origins outside the individual - and, projecting the potential of our overcoming them outside ourselves. This becomes the psychological flaw of this doctrine. It implies that goodness is a state beyond the human condition because humans are flawed by that first sin. What we should encourage as natural behavior (goodness and love); becomes something that God has to give, and we need to earn. Not through practice and knowledge, but through faith and fear. We seal our own fate in a doctrine, which proclaims, and thus justifies, our moral weakness as human beings.
Now, logic would dictate that for the original sin doctrine to be a true rendering of the story of creation, the story would have to be literal. This would mean that God would have created a world where all are needs would be met without effort, where snakes talked, and a world absent of any evolutionary process for the human species. In a sense, there would be no free will because there would be no decisions to make. Everything would be provided and we would never be sad; which begs the question, bow could we ever be happy?
It would seem that this goes against creation as we have come to understand it, so the literalization of the tale as a historical account is not worth intellectual pursuit. In fact, such literalization detracts from the deeper messages of the story.
But this does not mean that the story does not have spiritual value? Much depends on the way we look at it.
Augustine, using this story, tried to blame all the shortcomings of man on the fall; thus, lying the blame of all human iniquity at the feet of Adam. Likewise, born of his logic, we have a theological concept that all the redemptive Grace came directly from God as sacrificially earned by Jesus through his death on the cross. But this logic, too, is flawed. God's Grace must be unconditional, proceeding from His perfect love of Her creatures. God's Grace is manifested in our being which allows us to share in creation, which allows us to exist. We have the free will to reject such Grace, but there are no conditions for sharing in it, because the free will is a part of the Grace itself. God's grace, which is the sharing in the Divine Being, was here before Jesus and after. It was never deprived to Adam and Eve (the metaphor) or any of their descendents.
We need to talk a little about Grace before moving on. In Christian theology, Grace is an ambivalent word, but a responsible theology sees it in a very positive and clear way.
One of the traditional definitions of Grace is: 'a sharing in the life of God'. But just what is the life of God?
We have already established that any meaningful view of God would allow for paradox. In our reasoning of paradox here, we look for what might bind paradox together as a singularity housing all opposition. The example used was one of the 'Now', becoming the singularity that holds the paradox of time to a singularity of beginning and end at the same instant.
To apply this ideal to God, we need a common binding force for being itself, of which God is the Source. In our limited understanding of such things, there is only one thing that comes to mind. It is a Force that is somewhat transcendent of intellectual understanding, yet familiar to the intellect. A force that is both positive and negative, that can be both good or evil depending upon its use, yet, have the power to bind opposition into one thing. Such a force is the power of Love. Grace, therefore, would be defined as a sharing in the life of God, which is love. It then becomes self evident that if we exist God must love us if our existence proceeds from Her. Existence itself becomes the sharing in the life of God that we call Grace.
Religiously, one cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a God of love offering Grace to the whole of mankind and then set up conditions under which the grace is distributed. A particular religion cannot be the keeper of God's Grace, for such would deprive all those not exposed to that religion. The whole idea behind the Gospel metaphor is that God's love is unconditional and that is why we exist. It further tells us that to act in the Image of God we must express our ability to love, which is a potential for any one of us.
In the concept of original sin, we have reduced life to a test of one's faith, instead of the glorious experience of sharing in the creation. Love becomes secondary to ritual and law with the individuals looking to reward (or fearing punishment); instead of, seeking to contribute whatever they can in love toward the experience of life.
This, then, brings us to another contradiction
in the Original Sin ideal. We could not be stained and be created in the Image
of God. If love (Grace) is what makes us in God's Image, then we would be
absent of the potential to love until our ritual baptism. In fact, even if one
has problems with that definition of God's Image, common sense would dictate:
that anything created in the Image of God could not be stained or flawed. Any
stain could only occur after wearing the garment of life. In other words, the
gift of life is as pure as the
To accept the concept of Original Sin, is in effect saying: that every human being created since the time of Adam is created flawed and weak willed, which is exactly what Augustine believed. That God could not stand the sight of Her own creation until such time as it is ritually cleansed.
Thus, in its psychological suggestion, the concept of Original Sin declares that humans are inferior beings, rejected initially by their Creator through no fault of their own. This psychological implant is not only something to consider from an adult perspective, this same suggestion is passed to children from one generation to the next. Advertising demonstrates that we need not understand or believe in an idea to be psychologically influenced by it. We often wonder why low self-esteem is such a problem in our Western cultures; just perhaps, conditioning children with such beliefs is a beginning of some of the problem.
Now, we do not have to do away with the cherished Creation Story in Genesis to solve many of these problems, although we might find a more gentle myth to teach to our children. But in fact, the first book of the Bible has profound mythical implications and spiritual inspirations for our age. But we must approach this book as all myth, seeing it for its transcendent message that is timeless and harmonious with our knowledge of creation.
One of the most profound points of that tale is the concept that God is the Creator. We could not expect God to reveal to our ancestors about big bangs and unified field theories, expecting them to have any meaning to the people they served. So, Genesis becomes an inspired tale full of metaphor and inspirational message. And like most of the universal Creative Myths, Genesis shows that the Universe has a transcendent cause for its becoming. It also demonstrates, that the Creative Principle had purpose and intent in its design. Genesis does not have to be a historical account of Creation to promote the message that God created.
The concept of paradox and diversity and their relationship to being is also evident in the creation accounts in Genesis* . In the first chapter we see the opposition take form. He created light and separated
it from darkness, day from night, evening from morning (Gen 1:3-5). Then comes the sky from the waters, and the waters from the land, and then come the diversity of life plants, animals, and finally the manifestation of the Divine Paradox of Itself, man:
So God created man in His own Image, in the Image of God He created him; MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.
We might take note here, that in this creation account there is no making of a woman from Adam's rib to become his companion. God makes them in the Image of Him/Herself, which is the paradox of the Divine manifested into the opposition of being. We can explain these different accounts when we look at what the story centers upon. This creation account has to do with God creating, with God being the protagonist. The other creation account has Man as the real protagonist, as the story is more about Adam and Eve, then about God creating. To God there is no distinction between male and female, they are simply opposite Images of the same Source. We might analogize it to a left and right view of the same thing, although the concept actually transcends that.
Now, let's look at the positive psychological inference we have suggested, as well as this interpretation being a more logical approach to understanding our basic origins. From what we've read in the text, we see that God created and the creation proceeded from God. In creation becoming, that which was "Single" and "Only" manifested Itself into oppositions of immense diversity. Ironically, this is very close in metaphor to what science believes today. That: a Singularity triggered a Big Bang from which all positive and negative energy flows, from which the paradox of time (or being) flows.
Now as we move forward in this Sacred Story of Genesis, in Chapter Two: we get a slightly different version of the creation itself. This is not because God created twice, but because the inspiration is designed to convey a different message, one more concerned with the human characters of the story. Here again, the message of oneness is conveyed in a different style (also at a different time and for a different generation). But, it can still be read to mean that in essence man and woman are the same, man coming from the earth and woman being a part of man. Scientifically, perhaps the order of the metaphor could have been reversed, for in our conception we are all female until the proper chromosomes make some of us male. What we need to keep in mind here is that the writers of these sacred stories were most often men in a patriarchal society, which would blur the view of their inspiration.
Yet, as opposed to the other story, this story draws attention to our opposition, because at this point, this is no longer a story about God creating, it is a metaphor about evolution, our rising to consciousness, and our dual perceptions.
In the first story, we are created in the Image of God, without any reference to us coming from the earth. But the second story conveys our roots in the earth and our fundamental connection with it. As the story begins, our ego had no consciousness, which is ultimately the point of where it is going.
There is a line in the second chapter that is very important and could be referring to our very purpose:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden TO TEND AND KEEP IT.
So, man is placed in the Garden of Eden to tend to it. If we apply this concept to what we now believe about evolution, we can view this state as man in his primordial animal form. He instinctively lives his life, in animalistic ignorance, without self-awareness, without regard to his mortality, morality or nakedness. He would be unaware of the opposition that surrounds him. He is in bliss because he is not only ignorant of that which gives him life, but the entire world is as it should be - for it could be no other way. His purpose is instinctive, to tend to the garden and a little later in the story to procreate. There is no contemplation of fear, or reason for being, or pain, or joy, or sorrow, or even death. Life is what it should be and there is no reason to contemplate anything more. Man at this point has no need of love, for he is incapable hate. It is truly paradise, albeit, one which cannot be appreciated very much.
In "THE POWER OF MYTH", Bill Moyers ask Joseph Campbell, "Do you think there was
such a place as the Garden of Eden?" To which
As we examine this story for metaphor, it becomes clear that God somehow made known to early man that with consciousness and self-awareness came consequences:
And the Lord God commanded man saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat but of the tree of knowledge of good end evil you shall not eat for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.
It needs to be pointed out here, that while it is so often taught that the serpent is a representation of the devil, the Bible never says that. In many cultures, the snake is seen as a life force, and perhaps this meaning could be applied, and much more constructively, to the Creation Stories. It becomes God's plan that mankind evolve to have intellect and free will. Thus, the temptation of consciousness (knowledge of good and evil) becomes the force of human life itself.
The sin in the story of Adam and Eve should not be viewed as disobedience; rather, it is a sin of selfishness and greed. It is a sin of refusal to accept responsibility or consequence for one's actions. It is the Original Sin only because all future in is born out of selfishness and greed.
The reason for the eating of the fruit is of much more concern than the actual eating of it. The fruit is eaten to become God-like, not simply to disobey God. Mankind, in effect, insults God's creation by saying, "that it is not enough. We deserve to be like You! We want consciousness and free will, not to participate and share in the creation; but rather, to be God's equal." They want God's power without consequence. The serpent sells Eve on eating the fruit when he says:
"You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil."
(Genesis 3: 4-5)
This sin becomes a sin of egocentric magical thinking, which in many ways, continues to this very day. In our greed and arrogance, we seek to be godlike by some simplistic act, without any responsibility or effort. Our forbidden fruit is in our thinking, in ideals that put holiness and salvation in words of faith and prayer, or, in rituals. On one end of the religious spectrum, we selfishly claim to be God's crowning glory of creation; but on the other, we profess our weak wills and a predisposition towards evil.
Adam and Eve want the glory, but paying the consequence is seen as a curse. Once we recognize duality, we are subject to experience it. There can be no joy without sorrow, any ecstasy without agony, any potential to love without the potential to hate. God could not give us the gift of free will without giving us the potential to be evil. But the evil rests in our own hearts out of a sense of selfishness that leads us to project our shortcomings onto something else:
Then the man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me. SHE GAVE ME OF THE TREE, and I ate." And The Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "THE SERPENT DECEIVED ME, and I ate."
Genesis 3: 12-13)
The man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake; neither, willing to admit to God that they might have simply made a mistake. It's no wonder God becomes angry in the story, even when confronted red handed; the creation seeks to place the blame somewhere else.
And the Christian Original Sin doctrine continues to feed this blame. "The Devil makes us do it," or, "we are only human," become the battle cries of excuses for human shortcomings. In such concepts wars, hatred, poverty, lack of compassion, and all evil stem from our state of being; rather than as consequences of our own individual actions and choices. The devil tempts us; the sin of Adam and Eve make us weak; and only God's blood can save us! In these claims, where is our personal responsibility before God? Where does our unique reason for being fit into the puzzle? This is a faith that is built upon projection, and will never offer hope to change humanity, but instead, only seeks to cast blame.
Theology needs to revisit the way we look at the story of Creation. It needs to see present interpretations as a metaphor that has led us down a road of selfishness in our consciousness. It needs to see our mistakes as the casting of blame and, begin to accept a personal responsibility for the consequences of our own individual actions.
The Creation Story should lead us to see consciousness as a gift that requires a responsibility to not only experience, but contribute to the creation we share in. We cannot live in God's Image unless we become creators in our own unique way. We cannot have responsible free will unless we are willing to accept the full consequences of our decisions in life. God's Grace becomes Her love, and in the paradox of the Divine, we cannot receive love unless we are willing to give it. Adam and Eve wanted to be Godlike, but when confronted with their decision to eat the fruit, they were unwilling to accept responsibility for their act, choosing instead, to casts the blame unto something else.
The metaphors of the gospels, some centuries later, provide the balance and contrast to this early tale of ego selfishness. Jesus, perfectly innocent, is nailed to the tree and becomes the shining example of not only taking responsibility for himself, but also an example of messiahship for all mankind. The message is clear: in love we become Godlike!
And we cannot walk away from these Gospel tales without taking a look at a second point manifested; one that is there, yet, seems to be lost in our theological thinking. That is: God's concern and participation in the creation. Every star, every atom, every plant and every animal - the planets, the moons, the water and the air - all are a result of the Creative Intelligence from which it results.
In the story of Creation God is not separate from Her creation, but is an intricate part of it. He walks in His garden. He speaks to Her creatures. All that is proceeds from the Mind of God and the power of His Being. Until our theology recognizes God's reality in the "Now," it is not capable of serving the needs of people to the fullest. In the creation account of Genesis God walks with and speaks to His creation. Theology needs to recognize that God hasn't stopped doing this, just that; humans have stopped listening, or, that theology is perhaps drowning out His Voice.
The story of Adam and Eve is not about sin and the fall of mankind. It needs to be approached in the same manner as our ancestors whom it was written for. It is a story which conveys that we come from God, and that we are special animals who rose to consciousness which allowed us the freedom to control our own destiny. It tells us that God's gift of free will to humanity is not reversible, and with that gift came consequences. We may often perceive these gifts as a curse, but without the responsibilities, there is simply no free will. Without the power to do wrong, there is no free will to do right. Without the ability to perceive mortality, there can be no appreciation of life. Without suffering and pain, there is no joy. Unless we are free to hate, we cannot choose to love. In the story of Creation in Genesis, we meet the reality of the Paradoxical Nature of the God who created us in His Image, which allows us to share in the creation with Her. In our Divine gift of choice, we can be good or evil; we can share or hoard; we can give or be selfish; we can contribute or take; we can be motivated by greed or love - such we are free to choose! The choices we make are our doing and responsibility.
The idea of a baptism should not be to wash away an original sin; but it should represent a renewal by which we commit to a sharing in the life of God. It should be an expression of our love for God in our commitment to loving each other in humanity. If we stop and think about it, there is nothing we can do to express our love for God, except through actions toward the things that God has made. The idea that is in the gospels, "whatever you do for these the last of my brothers, you have done unto me," should be the whole concept behind our baptismal rite. Baptism should be a commitment to the caring for the things created; not a rejection of a superstitious force. In fact, it should be about accepting responsibility for our own acts instead of renouncement of that which does not warrant our allegiance in the first place.
There also needs to be a change in the psychological focus of our religious thinking - a change, which emphasizes the human potential of our consciousness; rather than, its weakness. Religion needs to acknowledge that mankind was not weakened by the rising to consciousness, the recognition of good and evil; but such was in fact a strengthening of our human potential. By being able to recognize good and evil, love and hate, we can choose to focus on our ability to love and create. Focusing on love and generosity gives us the potential to rid our society of many of its social ills, to live harmoniously in our environment, and to create beauty for the sake of creating it.
To see human being as weak willed and cursed by their Creator, is in fact an insult to the Creative Force that endowed us with so much potential. The reality is, the scope of our potential is only limited by our desire, imagination, conviction and belief in ourselves. To believe in one's self is to believe in the Creation of God. To encourage our potential is a far greater religious purpose than citing our shortcomings. It is not any original sin that hinders our strength, but rather, our belief in its power over us. To look at a newborn infant is not to see blemish that needs cleansing; it is to see the perfection of God's creation and the potential of a human mind!
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