original sin

original sin 2019-12-20T14:29:19+00:00

Original Sin

The belief in original sin has hung like a pall of guilt and self-doubt over the consciousness of Christians for all of its two thousand years. Although its enunciation has been promulgated by luminaries of Christian teaching of all Confessions, its effects can also be seen even in the beliefs of secular elements of society. Such is the broad reach of established culture.

The good news now is that we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that original sin was always a mistake. Believers never had enough collateral knowledge to interpret the Bible correctly.

So, the truth of humanity is NOT that we have a hereditary depravity and corruption (John Calvin), are sinners because we are the sons of a sinner (Martin Luther), and are naturally separated from God.

Rather the truth is that humanity is fragile. The human psyche is regularly deeply injured. Under pressure of severe ecological challenges (jungles, the desert, mountainous terrain), social turbulence, and harsh child-rearing, the human psyche can experience unquenchable personal pain that blots out social trust and creates a predatory narcissism.

Origin.

Its origin is well-known to be in the Book of Genesis and the letter of St. Paul to the Romans.
Everybody knows the Adam and Eve story. First there was the eating of the forbidden fruit, then there was the guilt:

 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  [Genesis 3, 9-10]

…and then there was the elaborate punishment:

Because you have eaten of the tree…… cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [v. 17 ff ]

In the time of St. Paul, there was no problem to use Genesis as literal and historical truth. In those days it had the validity of what we would now call anthropology. And so we find Romans 5, 12.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

But before we take one step further, we have to note that the normal scientific knowledge of our generation has a very serious problem with Genesis. The Book says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The problem is not with the idea of creation; it is with the idea of beginning. Since the publication of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking in 1988, we know that “the beginning” happened 15 billion years ago.

[The “theology” of Genesis still stands, but its historicity is forever demolished. When Hawking was asked how the Big Bang happened, there was no place for God in his worldview, and so he said it was “the law of gravity” that initiated it. Ha ha. This is a laughable failure of commonplace logic. The law of gravity is a quality that inheres in material things, and so you have to have material things before you have a law of gravity, not after. So, in spite of Hawking’s protestations, The Brief History of Time turns out to be the most effective proof of the existence of God ever presented; and not only the existence of God, but God’s nature. What is it that God actually does? Well, God creates. And what exactly does God create? The answer is: everything.]

So, Genesis 1-11 is not historical. The historical portion of the Book of Genesis starts with chapter 12, verse 1: “And Abraham went up from Ur.”
But there are actually two distinct aspects to the illusory character of original sin. On the one hand, the Adam and Eve event did not happen, and on the other hand, the authors of Genesis 1-11 mistook their trauma imprints for sin and separation from God.

Both of these aspects are of the utmost importance.

Scholarship and Paleontology.

Nineteenth century Biblical scholarship revealed that Genesis 1-11 is not historical, but rather a faith-based speculation about the beginning of human history. But even if there is some controversy about the accuracy of “the document hypothesis”, consensual dating eliminates the historicity of Genesis 1-ll.
That portion of Genesis was written certainly after Abraham left Ur, and before the Jews were freed from the Babylonian Captivity. That gives an interval from 1900 b.c.e. to 500 b.c.e.

The paleontology of homo sapiens places the first human beings utterly beyond the reach of the authors of Genesis 1-11. The material universe began some 15 billion years ago. The progress of the hominid family of primates from unmistakable apes to unmistakably rational “modern” humans took several million years. The fully developed rational forms occurred at least 70,000 years ago.

So, when do these forms of life become “made in the image and likeness of God” as mentioned in Gen.1:28? It has to be thousands of years before any conceivable author of Genesis 1-11 was alive.

For example, we know the Australian aboriginals had a complex belief-system describing a spiritual universe 40,000 years ago. So, Genesis 3 cannot possibly be historical.
Therefore, thousands of multi-local generations of humans walked the earth before the revelation of Yahweh to Abraham.
All of this is the reality of the universe that God created 15 billion years ago, and so all of it has to be accounted for in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who is himself God.

Trauma imprints.

The second problem in St. Paul’s use of Genesis 3 is the role of trauma imprints in human consciousness.

In the Adam and Eve story there is “sin”, “separation from God”, and manifold hardship in human life.

The bronze-age authors of Genesis 1-11 had no idea of when time had actually begun, how long it had lasted before their generation, and no method of tracking inner attention.

But they were traumatized. They had deep, personal emotional pain. So they “projected”. They thought their pain was caused by someone “committing sin” and getting “separated from God” at the beginning of time (which they imagined, had no direct knowledge of).

PTSD has been a common human experience since time immemorial. Early childhood commonly includes systematic pain, and so introspection can produce fearful and angry emotions. These feelings come from memories, but ones that are repressed. Therefore, they come out separated from the self. They are projected out onto the world, where they are perceived as some form of objective truth or “revelation.” This is the projection of repressed experiences into religious teaching.

PTSD easily becomes a sense of separation from God.

Genesis 3 is the first time in the history of Christianity where traumatization is mistaken for “sin” and a “separation from God”.
We thus arrive at a developmental principle: When religious believers have no method of inner attention, it is a common projection to say that trauma imprints are a “separation from God”.

Romans 5, 12:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Paul could not possibly have known that there never was an Adam. In fact Christians in general could not have known this until scientific study of the Bible in the nineteenth century revealed the distinctive character of Genesis 1-11, and until paleontology revealed the actual duration of human evolution.

Furthermore, in Romans 7, Paul repeats the same confusion between trauma imprints and “separation from God that we find in Genesis 3 (but he blames it on “The Law”):
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 
25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Any competent contemporary psychotherapist could easily get Paul to understand that he did not have a “sinful self” but an injured self. His “self” was injured by early childhood traumatic experiences. As long as there is no competent method of inner attention, this confusion will persist.

Go to any historical encyclopedia (such as The Catholic Encyclopedia), and you will find an exhaustive list of sources who swear by the veracity of original sin. All Christians are involved.

The (contemporary) Catholic Catechism:

Adam’s choice to disobey God and eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, after Eve was tempted by the serpent, demonstrated what is at the essence of all sin: that sin is rooted in man’s preference for himself over God. Instead of choosing God, Adam chose himself by eating of the fruit of the tree so that he could be like God, (Genesis 3:5). Humanity was forever changed through this event, losing its innocence of good and evil, bringing sin into the world.

Protestant Reformers:

Martin Luther:

But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful. Thus we read in Psalm 14:3: “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one”; and in Genesis 8:21: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Actual sins essentially consist in this that they come from out of us, as the Lord says in Matthew 15:19: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” But original enters into us; we do not commit it, but we suffer it. We are sinners because we are the sons of a sinner. A sinner can beget only a sinner, who is like him.”  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans)

John Calvin:

Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed, no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence [a strong, especially sexual desire, lust] have used a word by no means wide of the mark, if it were added  (and this is what many do not concede) that whatever is in man from intellect to will, from the soul to the flesh, is all defiled and crammed with concupiscence; or, to sum it up briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing but concupiscence.   (Institutes Book II. chap. i )

All of these religious teachings are completely unaware of traumatization. They do not engage in introspection.

They are also errors of the past. If we pay attention to the collateral knowledge that we have now, there is no good reason to talk about original sin, think about original sin, and above all preach about original sin.

There is only good reason to use what we know now. Humanity is fragile. Under pressure of severe ecological challenges (the desert, the mountains), social turbulence, and harsh child rearing, the human psyche can experience unquenchable personal pain that blots out social trust and creates a predatory narcissism.

Therefore the bottom line about original sin is that nobody is separated from God, but everybody has pain. The good news now is that now we know more than ever about the source of pain and how to heal it.

Recent science of mind observes that all human emotions are neurological events. You can never be sad for no reason. You can never be joyful for no reason. Sadness is the pain emitting from damaged neurons. An emotional injury is precisely that: an injury. Joy is the pleasure emitting from stimulated neurons.
Trauma imprints live inside us. The cure for them is skillfully controlled inner attention, such as practiced in meditation, psychotherapy and or trauma treatment. Such practices carefully find their way through the assembly of pain stimulants in our day-to-day consciousness, and at a certain point arrive at “the peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4, 7)

That is where the legacy of Jesus sends us now.