April 23, 2019

Thoughts on the origin of sin by RJS (2014)

Ominous Entrance (2016)

Thoughts on the origin of sin by RJS (2014)

This is the exact conclusion I have reached as well, after years of studying Genesis.

Over the last few years I have to say that I have become less than convinced that the Bible intends, anywhere, to portray the origin of sin. We don’t know why, for example, the snake is in the garden trying to corrupt Eve and thus Adam also. Rebellion began before Adam. That sin enters the human line with an original pair simply doesn’t seem to be the point in either the Old or New Testaments. On the other hand, the Bible clearly portrays the universal impact of sin and the places the blame firmly on mankind as a species, as communities, and as individuals. Rebellion is the point. We are formed to need God, to be in fellowship with God. But this relationship, like our other relationships, is broken. Broken by us, not by God. Broken time and time again.

Comments

  1. Heather Angus says

    Sort of playing Genesis against Jane Goodall, I note that in chimpanzee tribes, there is also “sin:” war and murder for example.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29237276

    Is it not likely that the possibility of “evil” came down to us in our DNA, from blood far more ancient than ours.

    Or are animals incapable of actual evil, because they are incapable of actual good — do they act by instinct alone, like a lion attacking a gazelle not to be cruel, but to simply stock the larder.

    I’m inclined to think that the writers of Genesis took the tales of the Ancient Near East and put a moral spin on them, fitting them into their narrative of Israel’s origins and place in the cosmos. (For instance, as most of us know, in the ancient Flood story starring Utnapishtim, the building of the ark is similar to Noah’s, but there’s no idea of “all the humans except Utnapishtim were evil so God decided to destroy them.” Instead, the majority of the gods just decide to destroy humanity, but the kindly god Enki warns Utnapishtim about the coming flood.)

    I suspect we humans were born with all the mental and (im)moral equipment we ever needed for murder, war, and other bad acts, and that what the Genesis writers were trying to explain is how humans can “see” a perfect God, but how for some reason we are incapable of living up to that perfection. The Genesis story is, as you say, CM, about a broken relationship which those writers saw clearly and tried to account for. But whether it was “Broken by us, not by God,” I’m not so sure. Did we ever have a possibility of keeping that relationship unbroken?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Or are animals incapable of actual evil, because they are incapable of actual good

      Define “actual”. Vs. “inactual evil|god” [in reality “inactual evil|good” seems to abound, now that I think about it]. The loyalty, generosity, and altruism (now well document scientifically) of animals, compared to mankind, seems in nearly every way more genuine and non-reciprocal.

      Sorry, the notion – or terms – of “real”/”actual” evil is a turn of phrase I’ve bumped into more often recently . . . and I am left wondering what that means. It is a thought train that derails into a nice knot.

      • Heather Angus says

        ATW,

        I’m sorry if my phrase annoyed you. By “actual evil,” my definition (for what it’s worth) was “acting to hurt another being because it gives me pleasure to hurt another being.” So, not just Inflicting harm for food or self-defense (“Inactual evil,” if you will), but for the pleasure of inflicting harm.

        Animals indeed are capable of “loyalty, generosity, and altruism,” Is that because they take pleasure in providing pleasure to other beings, or is it “just” something encoded in their genes (e.g., a mama mammal will protect her own baby before she protects another’s baby — right?) Is it something encoded in ours? Or does that even matter? As you can see in my post, I was asking questions, not making pronouncements.

        The Google definition of evil is broader than mine: “profoundly immoral and malevolent.”

        I once heard Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel speak, and someone had the gall to ask him if he believed in evil. His definition is perhaps broader than both, and surely better than mine: “For the price of one battleship we could feed and cure all the children in Africa, and you ask me is there evil! There is evil, and its name is indifference.”

        What is your own take on these matters?

    • When I read a sentence that begins, “For instance, as most of us know, in the ancient Flood story starring Utnapishtim,….” what I know is that most of the people I know don’t know anything of the sort and that I am tempted to turn to my little dog and say, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.”

      Not being snarky, merely realistic regarding my ignorance. This crowd is way above my pay grade.

      • Clay Crouch says

        From what I’ve observed, most of the commenters do know “For instance…”. I suggest another Snickers Bar. Your blood sugar seems to be a bit low.

      • Rick Ro. says

        LOL @ rhymes.

      • Heather Angus says

        RWP.

        As Alexander Pope once said, as of course you know, 🙂

        “Men must be taught as though you taught them not,
        And things unknown proposed as things forgot.”

        I was trying to be polite and even tactful: If I had explained the whole long ANE tale, at least half the folks here would have said, “Well, of course we know that — do you think we’re stupid?!”

  2. Burro (Mule) says

    The Bible speaks about ‘the mystery of iniquity’. Yeah, I suppose that has a reference to the AntiChrist and the end of the age, but I think it speaks of how deeply sin bites. It goes so deep that its roots are invisible to us. For this reason we should be a little easier on each other.

    That’s a pretty unMulish thing to say, maybe, but I do believe it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Yeah, I suppose that has a reference to the AntiChrist and the end of the age…

      If you’ve been infected by The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay, EVERYTHING is “a reference to the Antichrist and the end of the age…”. One guy I used to know called it “Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist” Christianity.

      • Robert F says

        The New Testament only speaks about “antichrist” or “the antichrist” in the two Epistles of John, five times altogether. In those five times, the texts refer not to a single person to come at the very end of the age, but many who have already come in “the present crisis” (which the New Testament Christians believed was the end of the age, with Christ’s imminent return to happen soon), so to speak. No where else in the NT, not even in the Book of Revelation, is the title “antichrist” used. Yet American Christianity has made an industry, and a profitable one at that, of using the title as much as possible — how very Biblical! Lol!

    • Ronald Avra says

      It’s possible to discover rather quickly how invisibly the roots of sin run, once you begin a diligent attempt to root it out.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yep.

        And one can discover that you’re going to need industrial mining equipment to go that deep. It just keeps going down, down, down.

        History can teach us that. Ask the question “where did this go wrong?” about almost anything; its a bottomless rabbit hole.

      • Robert F says

        True.

  3. the Bible clearly portrays the universal impact of sin and the places the blame firmly on mankind as a species, as communities, and as individuals. Rebellion is the point. We are formed to need God, to be in fellowship with God. But this relationship, like our other relationships, is broken. Broken by us, not by God. Broken time and time again

    Is this a distinction without a difference? I think even the most ardent proponent of the theory that sin entered the world through the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve would read the concluding sentences above and nod in full agreement.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “The theory that sin entered the world through the willful disobedience of Adam & Eve” (and then passed down through Original Sin) is an all-or-nothing package deal with YEC, Noah’s Flood, and Pin the Tail on The Antichrist.

      • Not necessarily. Catholics hold to original sin, but not YEC or endtimes speculation.

        • Christiane says

          The Catholic concept of ‘original sin’ belief is not well-understood by some Protestant faith groups.

          The thing is that what Catholics call ‘original sin’ is NOT the same thing as the Calvinist idea of ‘total depravity’, no. For Catholics, ‘original sin’ means that our human natures are ‘wounded’ but still capable of living in accordance with our consciences and in making decisions for which we can be held accountable. . . .
          AND, it also means that we are capable of being ‘healed’ because Our Lord, during the Incarnation, took our wounded human nature to Himself so it COULD be healed.
          I don’t think ‘terms’ travel well between denominations and it does help to sometimes take a look at how a particular faith community defines a term. In any real dialogue between people from different faith groups, it is almost impossible to succeed without understanding how each group defines any mutual terms that are shared, but may have different definitions within the context of a particular faith community.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Is this a distinction without a difference?

      I feel the same way.

      I think: “It is here”. How it arrived? If we are honest about what it is we would likely be less interested in that question.

      As all the best apocalypse movies always start right in in medias res; we, the protagonists, are often much to concerned about the backstory. . . . unless we somehow believe that backstory contains clues to the remedy. Which is where Biblicism and magick-text comes in. IMNHSO, Christianity says “No”, the answer is not back there.

    • The difference is whether or not one accepts the doctrine of “original sin” with all of its attendant teachings or not.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Is there an ‘official’ term for the distinction between believing sin is universal [as I do] and believing in the *narrative* of “original sin” [which seems dodgy and contrived, to me anyway]?

      • Burro (Mule) says

        The difference between Catholic ‘original’ sin and Orthodox ‘ancestral’ sin escapes me. I believe that the idea is that human nature (whatever that is) was not contaminated by ancestral disobedience, but that when we sin, we act not only against our own natures and best interests, but we screw everything up for everyone else as well. It doesn’t take long to get into a situation from which we cannot extricate ourselves unaided.

        Orthodox are not Pelagians, but it is this social aspect of sin that makes it impossible for any one person to escape on her own. You need a Savior, and sorry, you need His Church.

  4. Rules were created because of Reasons. Sin is what it is often called when you break those Rules. Yet sometimes the Reasons for the Rules change. Shouldn’t the Rules change when the Reasons do.

    • Rick Ro. says

      This!

      I heard a parable once that illustrates this. Goes something like this:

      A rabbi came to a small village several times a year to teach. He would sit under a tree at the center of town and the villagers would gather and listen to him. As he was teaching one time, a stray cat wandered into their midst, mewing and crying and generally being a pest, so the villagers took the cat and tied it to a tree near the outskirts of town to keep it out of the way while the rabbi taught. This went on for years, the rabbi arriving and the villagers tying up the cat before he taught, just so it didn’t distract everyone. Eventually the rabbi died and a new rabbi took his place, coming several times a year. When he arrived, the villagers would track down the cat and tie it to a so it wouldn’t bother the rabbi while he taught.

      One day the cat died. The next time the rabbi came to the village to teach, the villagers had to find a cat to tie to a tree before he could begin.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Rules were created because of Reasons. Sin is what it is often called when you break those Rules.

      In the words of the Prophet Danny Elfman (channeling Doctor Moreau):
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRljdzY3dXs

    • But perhaps exactly what needs to change is the view of morality as rules.

  5. Christiane says

    “The infernal Serpent ; he it was, whose guile, Stirr’d up with envy and revenge,
    deceived The mother of mankind”

    (from Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’)

    a classic response never disappoints . . .

    a greater mystery is the pride and hubris of the Pharisee in the temple and how fundamentalist-evangelicals pursue his example to the max:
    even though Scripture tells us that God’s favor went to the poor publican who admitted his sinfulness and asked for mercy

    that, I would like to understand

    • My guess is, it’s due to two main factors –

      1) Americans – particularly white Americans – are intensely meritocratic. What’s the main argument for cutting social benefits? “They need to EARN their keep!” What’s the main argument against cutting Social Security? “I EARNED that benefit!” Ad infinitum, ad nauseam. An unchallenged base assumption like that will have a profound impact on your theology, even if subconsciously.

      2) American Christians are also very OT centric. What do they harp on the most in public debates? The Ten Commandments. God-ordained gender roles. “Literal” creation theories. All very OT centric, and almost all *rules* centric. In that schema, piety is by definition “following the rules”.

      Let those two assumptions sink in and simmer, and it becomes very difficult to bring in a grace-centeted, Christ-centered way of reading the Bible and living your life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        (1) is also the reason why hazing is so hard to eradicate:
        “I DIDN’T HAVE IT EASY! WHY SHOULD THEY?”

      • A few months ago our pastor was preaching about the idea of America as a ‘Christian’ nation. He noted that what most Christians really want is an OT nation – where the God of wrath fights their battles and holds sinners accountable (for a few select sins). They don’t really want a nation that looks like Jesus. Who would bomb the hell out of them damn heathens?

        • Rick Ro. says

          Yep. And that tendency to want to use God’s power like that goes way back. Case in point:

          Luke 9:54-55…
          “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them.”

  6. Dana Ames says

    Father Stephen has written that it’s not so hard to figure out why there is evil. The difficult thing is to try to figure out why there is goodness.

    The capacity of humans for communion with God (a better translation of “koinonea” than “fellowship”) and with each other remains; it has not been obliterated by the evil we do. We are not “totally depraved”. We are sick, and held in bondage to the fear of death.

    But God became man, Christ is risen, and the Holy Spirit has come.

    Dana

  7. Iain Lovejoy says

    It is interesting to me that the Bible has God (for reasons never specified) make man to be his image in the world, and (when the focus switches in chapter 2 from the whole of creation to man specifically) God sees the need to take his newly created man out of the world into a specially prepared garden guarded by a wall, and that when man nevertheless sins and is cast out, the world he is cast into is a harsh, sinful one full of death.
    Some old readings of the Genesis story have it that man’s sin is not eating from the tree of knowledge per se, but doing so before he was sufficiently mature and God thought him ready.
    The writers of the Bible seem to me generally unconcerned with non-human animals except as they are use or danger to mankind.
    A thought I had ages ago (and even wrote a little article / essay on it which was never published) was that sin need not have started with mankind, but that if we are supposed to be God’s image in creation we are God’s plan to fix it and our own fall is creation’s fall because of this.

    • Robert F says

      And Christ in his humanity undoes our failure to be the divine image in creation that God would have us be, thereby becoming the completer and redeemer not only of humanity but also of creation.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Over the last few years I have to say that I have become less than convinced that the Bible intends, anywhere, to portray the origin of sin.

    AKA “It’s there. Deal With It.”

  9. John barry says

    I am shocked to learn my sins are unorginal. Relieved to know I am off the hook, thought I was the only one but it seems like everyone sins, who knew? If you cannot have a baseball game without “rules” can u have a society, without rules.

    And why did Roberts get to make the rules for order?

    Non white Americans do not seem to believe in a merit based society, Does that sound like a racial stereotype?
    Stupid John Smith of Jamestown colony, if u don’t work u don’t eat, what a white right wing nut,

    • “Non white Americans do not seem to believe in a merit based society”

      Neither does Jesus (Matt 20:1-14).

    • Robert F says

      If only the white Jamestownians had not so readily (and quickly) turned to slavery, making others work to increase their own wealth, and the richness of their tables. The rule was really, “If you don’t work to make us wealthy, you will be whipped to death.” In that context, the idea, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” became an absurd and empty moralism of American history.

      • Christiane says

        those white Jamestown folk (to which my mother’s Stafford ancestor came on the ship Furtherance) were led by men who were the sons of wealthy English landowners, but they were not the older sons who inherited . . . . so these younger sons of lords had to go out into the world and make their living . . .

        but England had a history of ‘serfdom’ and people living on lands that belonged to a lord who was given those land by the King, so ‘labor’ was something that the sons of wealthy men saw as the work of poor folk. . . . . very poor folk . . . so it was not such a strange jump from indentured servants to ‘slavery’ in the New World, no.

        Slaves were listed as property and in historical records, when someone left a will, it was mentioned how many slaves they owned and ‘left’ to their heir(s) . . . .

        It took a long time for our kind to see ‘labor’ differently. Today ‘labor’ is headed back down again into a position that does not favor it’s humanity in any other way than as a way to make wealth for the stock-holders and owners of businesses. . . . . when we find that no longer are safety rules in place for those who work, we shall begin to see a real return to the past . . . . like that man in West Virginia who ordered that his mines abandon certain safety rules so he could make more profit and then there was an explosion that killed many miners . . . that man went to prison but only to re-emerge and run for public office. (He didn’t win.)