Saturday, July 25, 2009

Original Sin?

[Crossposted to Street Prophets]

This is another of those long comments I made on another blog. The conversation started this way:

Seriously, taking the Bible literally can lead to people tying themselves into knots. Take original sin. God said what He said in Genesis, but by the time of the 10 commandments in Exodus, His wrath was limited unto the 3rd or 4th generation. By Ezekial 18, every man's sin is his own and the sins of the fathers are not visited on the sons. So which version is right?
I gave an answer that included discussion of progressive revelation - and that I did not think these areas were that contradictory. The chat continued with this comment:
Then Augustine's ideas on original sin are no longer in play? And there's no longer the original need for salvation?

Last I looked all Christianity was based on the idea of salvation starting with the original sin; I'm totally confused at this point.
Frankly, I really haven't read what Augustine said about original sin - but folks who talk about it act like it is some kind of infection passed on by our genes at birth - Augustine apparently thought by the lust associated with sex. However, Augustine's views on original gave over, within the Catholic Church and within a century, to Aquinas' view:

He distinguished the supernatural gifts of Adam before the Fall from what was merely natural, and said that it was the former that were lost, privileges that enabled man to keep his inferior powers in submission to reason and directed to his supernatural end. Even after the fall, man thus kept his natural abilities of reason, will and passions.
This makes sense to me - our legacy from the garden is not some positive infection - it is a lack of something we should have. (This falls in with my view that evil is also a lack of good rather than a force in and of itself.) This, in my view, is why God gave Israel Mosaic Law - to serve as a substitute for those lost supernatural gifts/priviledges.

That the views of the Catholic Church are far closer to Aquinas than Augustine can be seen in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church. From Wikipedia:
Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that in "yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state … original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed"—a state and not an act" (404). This "state of deprivation of the original holiness and justice … transmitted to the descendants of Adam along with human nature" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 76) involves no personal responsibility or personal guilt on their part (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Personal responsibility and guilt were Adam's, who because of his sin, was unable to pass on to his descendants a human nature with the holiness with which it would otherwise have been endowed, in this way implicating them in his sin.
For me, the definition of sin is anything that turns us away from God - anything. We are supposed to love God with ALL of ourselves - anything that gets in the way of that is sin. The original sin was Adam and Eve disobeying God's command not to eat some fruit from a tree - a fruit that gave them the knowledge of good and evil.

One pastor I heard said this about the two trees in Eden:

  • the tree of life (חיּים); and
  • the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (רע- ra): the root of ra is רעע- raa - which can mean to spoil (literally, by breaking to pieces)
He pointed out that the first thing Adam and Eve did once they ate from the tree (after feeling shame because they were naked) was to make a covering for themselves - not for the other person: they became self-focused. He presented this as the first religious act - realizing our shame before God and others and seeking to cover and hide ourselves. For me (he didn't say this explicitly), I can see that most of the evil in the world comes from humanity breaking itself into smaller pieces - separating themselves from each other and God.

So, our sin is that we choose our own desires over God's will for us - who we are to give ALL to; and over the needs of other humans - who we are to love as we love ourselves. We know this as well - universally. Our consciences convict us; and, in our shame, we seek to hide our true selves behind masks and fig leaves - we break ourselves off from the community with God and each other we were created for. When our consciences convict us, we should:

  • feel remorse and flee from wrong;
  • confess what one has done;
  • atone - pay the debt;
  • reconcile - restore the bonds that have been broken; and
  • become justified - get back in the right.
However, as Paul said in Romans, because we suppress the truth apparent within ourselves and in nature and choose other than God - we actually, as J. Budziszewski said:

  • do not flee from wrong, but just from thinking about it;
  • compulsively confess every detail of the story but the moral;
  • punish ourselves again and again offering every sacrifice but the one demanded;
  • simulate the broken bonds of intimacy by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves; and
  • seek not to become just but to justify ourselves.
This is the train wreck that is our universal relationship with God and each other. This is the ongoing sin that has arisen from Adam actually, or metaphorically, choosing to go his own way in the Garden - and we all share in this sin. We do all carry the stain of Adam's sin.

Not because Adam did it; but because we - by our nature that we share with Adam - choose universally to do the same; and God "gives us over to our nature" and lets us choose it. We choose it because, as Satan tempted in the Garden, we want "to be as Gods".

This is the reason Christ came. By being the "second Adam" and living through life without sin - without choosing poorly, we have recieved through the Holy Spirit, those supernatural gifts from God that enables us, as Aquinas said:

to keep our inferior powers in submission to reason and directed to our supernatural end
With this supernatural gift/priviledge as a guide, we are no longer bound to Mosaic Law. That is if we listen and then choose to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Aquinas wasn't only a century later than Augustine. He was actually more like six centuries later.

    There are certainly differences in their theology of original sin. Aquinas thinks of it as something that can be removed at baptism in an infant, and Augustine sees it as part of the explanation of why children sin, something that happens after baptism. So they certainly don't have the same view. Augustine's view is much closer to the Reformation view that most Protestants hold to.

    But this idea of a positive infection baffles me. Augustine saw all evil as a privation of a good. God is perfectly good, and anything evil is less good than God. How evil it is depends on how much of God's goodness is not present. The more evil that gets lost, the closer you get to zero. There's nothing on the other side of zero, though. Anything that exists is positive in some sense, just usually disordered. So original sin for Augustine is a disordering of our preferences, a disordering that can't be reordered properly without God's miraculous work of grace in our hearts. It does get transferred to the next generation, but it's not like a positive infection. It's just that the good desires you have are ordered wrongly. You want better things not as much as things that aren't as good, and you want lesser things more than greater things. He defines moral good in terms of wanting the right things and acting on those desires, so all human evil choices come from this.

    Aquinas also shares the view that all evil is a privation of good. But he actually got it from Augustine, who was the first philosopher to come up with such an account and put it to use to solve philosophical problems.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly