Friday, October 10, 2008

The Sin of Original Sin

Like lots of the utterly bizarre and nonsensical claims of Christianity, we’ve all become inured to the strange counter logic of the notion of original sin. Lots of bellicose Christians will invoke a sanctimonious, and strangely confident tone about the inherent depravity of humans. We’re prone to wickedness by our nature; we’re morally depraved; we’re deeply deserving of God’s scorn and punishment. There’s even a kind of perverse pride in their eyes when they point to our downfall in the Garden of Eden and how it shows that we’ll get what we deserve.

Which brings us to another strange component of the Original Sin doctrine. It’s not just that we’re wicked, but we’re wicked and deserving of punishment because of something that your ancient ancestors did. In religious contexts, that notion doesn’t bother them at all. But of course, if you tried to get someone to pay for their dad’s defaulted mortgage, or put one of them in jail for a crime that their mom did, they’d scream about how grossly unjust that is. Once people have heard all this surreal religious metaphor and metaphysics enough, it just sounds perfectly natural and normal. But when we take it out of its ordinary context and cloak it with equivalent but unfamiliar language, the insanity becomes clear: “So there’s a giant, invisible space being who lives in the sky and he can read minds and grant wishes?” “And you go to your sacred space god worship session once a week you drink the blood and eat the tissue of another space god who is the big one’s offspring?” Seriously? But in the Christian’s mind, it all makes sense somehow that someone who existed thousands of years ago made a bad choice (Eve), and even though you didn’t know this person or have anything to do with the decision in question, you deserve to be punished for their crimes. And by eating juice and crackers and calling it the blood and flesh of Jesus, it is possible to somehow rectify the sin debt.

Which brings us to the question of what exactly it was that Adam and Eve did wrong to bring all this tenacious guilt and horrible suffering down on the rest of humanity. One of the many paradoxes of Eden is that Adam and Eve presumably didn’t understand the difference between good and evil before they ate from the tree. It was the tree of KNOWLEDGE of good and evil, after all. So they couldn’t have possibly understood or appreciated the implications of God’s threat. Nor would it have been clear to them that disobeying a command, which is distinct from doing something immoral, was somehow wrong. Recall your frustrated mother saying, “because I’m the mommy, that’s why!” Nevertheless, when Adam and Eve did this thing that they couldn’t have possibly appreciated as wrong, they tainted all of humanity with some sort of metaphysical stain that cannot be removed unless those people adopt the right sort of belief states about God. And aside from not doing what they were told—recall that freewill is usually celebrated by Christians as God’s great gift to us too—there’s no plausible interpretation of the whole thing that could possibly warrant the reaction. I mean, it’s not like they went out and committed genocide or something. He said “Don’t eat from this tree.” That’s not a moral commandment, it’s just him flexing his muscles. Consider the difference between the law that puts the speed limit at 65 and the one that prohibits rape. Neither eating fruit, nor refusing to do something that a power tripping-bully demands of you are immoral. Nevertheless, because of their action, every one of the billions of humans to descend from them is condemned to an eternity of unbearable suffering. Oh sure, THAT’S fair.

Recently there have been a bunch of cases in the news where some slimy preacher who has cloistered himself into a compound in the boonies with a bunch of naïve followers. Then he precedes to lord his power and religious authority over them so that he can rape all the girls, banish the boys, all while hiding behind the banner of our religious tolerance. Imagine if one of these guys insisted that one of the girls have sex with him, but when she refused, he set about to inflict horrible suffering on her and all of her descendents. Would we defend his actions by insisting that they had, after all, willfully disobeyed his commandments?

Imagine a parent who puts a ripe, sweet apple (Genesis doesn’t say it was an apple, by the way) down on a chair in front of a normal, hungry, curious toddler, and then says, “Whatever you do, don’t eat this.” And then she walks off. Then when the inevitable happens, she storms into the room and thunders at the child for breaking her arbitrary and pointless rule. Next, she puts the kid on a plane by himself, sends him to be dropped off in the middle of the Sahara desert with no preparations, no food, no water, and no aid. But it gets even better. She arranges it so that every single person who descends from that little boy in the desert (if he survives) from now on must 1) believe in the Great Mother in the Sky, 2) obey all of her commandments no matter how antique, or pointless they are, and 3) if they don’t comply, they will be tortured mercilessly for eons. All because the clueless toddler, who didn’t have any knowledge of good and evil after all, took a bite from the apple. Not because anyone did anything that was actually wrong like commit genocide or enslave a race, but because he broke a capricious and irrational rule.

“Oh, but I don’t think all that stuff literally happened,” says the moderate Christian. “Those are just enriching stories that communicate important moral, social, and cultural lessons.”

Fine. How exactly is it better to endlessly thrust this harmful nonsense into a child’s head and reinforce it in a thousand other ways when you’d readily admit that you don’t even think it is true? How can people form mentally healthy self-images or come to value humanity for their remarkable capacities and virtues against this misanthropic backdrop?

So when an Original Sin Christian is feeling sycophantic about the inherent moral corruption of all of humanity, and about humanity’s need for a long, hard spanking because they’ve been sooo naughty don’t expect the rest of us to even comprehend your point.


anon said...

Ad hominem and straw man all up in your post. Instead of attacking right wing religious nuts maybe a person of your academic caliber should be taking on the Professors at Notre Dame, BYU, and Duke. Oh I bet you have already refuted these guys along with the 50 plus noble laureates and the majority of philosophers throughout history who believed in god?

You never did answer the question as to why so many smart people believe in god? How does an atheist deal with this reality? Please don’t run away and cry foul like you did last time professor Mcquack…

PART I. Nobel Scientists (20-21 Century)

Albert Einstein Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish

Max Planck Nobel Laureate in Physics Protestant

Erwin Schrodinger Nobel Laureate in Physics Catholic

Werner Heisenberg Nobel Laureate in Physics Lutheran

Robert Millikan Nobel Laureate in Physics probably Congregationalist

Charles Hard Townes Nobel Laureate in Physics United Church of Christ (raised Baptist)

Arthur Schawlow Nobel Laureate in Physics Methodist

William D. Phillips Nobel Laureate in Physics Methodist

William H. Bragg Nobel Laureate in Physics Anglican

Guglielmo Marconi Nobel Laureate in Physics Catholic and Anglican

Arthur Compton Nobel Laureate in Physics Presbyterian

Arno Penzias Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish

Nevill Mott Nobel Laureate in Physics Anglican

Isidor Isaac Rabi Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish

Abdus Salam Nobel Laureate in Physics Muslim

Antony Hewish Nobel Laureate in Physics Christian (denomination?)

Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. Nobel Laureate in Physics Quaker

Alexis Carrel Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Catholic

John Eccles Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Catholic

Joseph Murray Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Catholic

Ernst Chain Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Jewish

George Wald Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Jewish

Ronald Ross Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Christian (denomination?)

Derek Barton Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Christian (denomination?)

Christian Anfinsen Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Jewish

Walter Kohn Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Jewish

Richard Smalley Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Christian (denomination?)

PART II. Nobel Writers (20-21 Century)

T.S. Eliot Nobel Laureate in Literature Anglo-Catholic (Anglican)

Rudyard Kipling Nobel Laureate in Literature Anglican

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Nobel Laureate in Literature Russian Orthodox

François Mauriac Nobel Laureate in Literature Catholic

Hermann Hesse Nobel Laureate in Literature Christian; Buddhist?

Winston Churchill Nobel Laureate in Literature Anglican

Jean-Paul Sartre Nobel Laureate in Literature Lutheran; Freudian; Marxist; atheist; Messianic Jew

Sigrid Undset Nobel Laureate in Literature Catholic (previously Lutheran)

Rabindranath Tagore Nobel Laureate in Literature Hindu

Rudolf Eucken Nobel Laureate in Literature Christian (denomination?)

Isaac Singer Nobel Laureate in Literature Jewish

PART III. Nobel Peace Laureates (20-21 Century)

Albert Schweitzer Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lutheran

Jimmy Carter Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Baptist (former Southern Baptist)

Theodore Roosevelt Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dutch Reformed; Episcopalian

Woodrow Wilson Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Presbyterian

Frederik de Klerk Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dutch Reformed

Nelson Mandela Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Christian (denomination?)

Kim Dae-Jung Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Catholic

Dag Hammarskjold Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Christian (denomination?)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Baptist

Adolfo Perez Esquivel Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Catholic

Desmond Tutu Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Anglican

John R. Mott Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Methodist

Part IV. Founders of Modern Science (16-21 Century)

Isaac Newton Founder of Classical Physics and Infinitesimal Calculus
Anglican (rejected Trinitarianism, i.e., Athanasianism;
believed in the Arianism of the Primitive Church)

Galileo Galilei Founder of Experimental Physics Catholic

Nicolaus Copernicus Founder of Heliocentric Cosmology Catholic (priest)

Johannes Kepler Founder of Physical Astronomy and Modern Optics Lutheran

Francis Bacon Founder of the Scientific Inductive Method Anglican

René Descartes Founder of Analytical Geometry and Modern Philosophy Catholic

Blaise Pascal Founder of Hydrostatics, Hydrodynamics,
and the Theory of Probabilities Jansenist

Michael Faraday Founder of Electronics and Electro-Magnetics Sandemanian

James Clerk Maxwell Founder of Statistical Thermodynamics Presbyterian; Anglican; Baptist

Lord Kelvin Founder of Thermodynamics and Energetics Anglican

Robert Boyle Founder of Modern Chemistry Anglican

William Harvey Founder of Modern Medicine Anglican (nominal)

John Ray Founder of Modern Biology and Natural History Calvinist (denomination?)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz German Mathematician and Philosopher,
Founder of Infinitesimal Calculus Lutheran

Charles Darwin Founder of the Theory of Evolution Anglican (nominal); Unitarian

Ernst Haeckel German Biologist,
the Most Influential Evolutionist in Continental Europe

Thomas H. Huxley English Biologist and Evolutionist,
Famous As "Darwin's Bulldog"

Joseph J. Thomson Nobel Laureate in Physics, Discoverer of the Electron,
Founder of Atomic Physics Anglican
Louis Pasteur Founder of Microbiology and Immunology

Anonymous said...

Dr. MM said:

"One of the many paradoxes of Eden is that Adam and Eve presumably didn’t understand the difference between good and evil before they ate from the tree. It was the tree of KNOWLEDGE of good and evil, after all. So they couldn’t have possibly understood or appreciated the implications of God’s threat. Nor would it have been clear to them that disobeying a command, which is distinct from doing something immoral, was somehow wrong."

Uh hello there but isnt it true that a child hasnt knowledge of good and evil but still grasp that he must obey his parents commnad? sheesh that was an easy refutation.


Anonymous said...

To Anon:

1- Your argument about who believed in god is irrelevant; it's called an Appeal to Authority. Just because famous people through history believed in something doesn't make that something true. If you think about this for a while, you'll realize it's a non-argument. The vast majority of the most respected scientists today do not believe in god. Does that mean god doesn't exist? Maybe they have new information that helps them come to a better conclusion than, say, T.S. Elliot.

If you want to learn more about why "Smart People" believe in a god, I'd recommend doing some research into current brain theory or perhaps reading Michael Shermer's Excellent books, "Why do we believe?" and "Why do smart people believe dumb things?"

2- The point of the paradox issue is that Adam and Eve theoretically didn't know what disobeying WAS, unlike a child who has learned, through live experiences, what the consequences are of misbehaving. They lived in a paradise where they had everything and they knew no consequences. Paradise - think about what that means. These people had, supposedly, never experienced anything but bliss. This is entirely different than a child's experiences in this world.

Even if you still don't understand the paradox issue, then you still have to come to grips with the absurd notion that because a person made a bad choice thousands of years ago, the rest of humanity must suffer. Since you brought up the idea of a child in this world, try and imagine what a child could do that would justify you punishing their descendants for all eternity.

And, please don't say the punishment is infinite because the crime was infinite - the word infinite is meaningless in this context. It was a simple mistake if these people (Adam and Eve) were essentially ignorant.

Also, arguing that "it's all ok because Jesus can save everything," won't cut it because billions of people have suffered since.

Reginald Selkirk said...

1- Your argument about who believed in god is irrelevant; it's called an Appeal to Authority.

Not only is his list irrelevant, some of the entries are highly questionable. I notice that it contains Albert Einstein, who was culturally Jewish but as far as religion goes, generally described as an agnostic or pantheist. It also contains Thomas H. Huxley, the man who coined the word "agnostic" to describe his position on religion. Extremely sloppy bit of work.

Reginald Selkirk said...

1- Your argument about who believed in god is irrelevant; it's called an Appeal to Authority.

Not only is it irrelevant, it is a highly questionable list. Albert Einstein is listed as beign Jewish? He was culturally Jewish, but once wrote:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religous convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

And Thomas H. Huxley? He's the person who coined the word agnostic to express his own view of religion.

A very sloppy piece of work.

Matt McCormick said...

Sorry to do it folks, but the tenor of certain posters' comments has inclined me to start moderating the discussions here. I've grown tired of all the irrelevant, off topic, deconstructive abuse from our friend, anonymous. I'll still permit every post possible.


Aspentroll said...

To Anon and his big list;

None of the info in the bible is even remotely true, so why waste your time making a huge list of people who may or may not believe it either. You may believe in that crap but it really only shows how gullible you are. If you get to your heaven because of your stupid beliefs and I go to your hell because of mine, then so be it. I would rather cook wieners over a good fire than sit on a cloud next to the likes of you. You are a terrific bore.

Eric Sotnak said...

At the risk of overly emboldening our anonymous friend, I have to report some sympathies.

There are, indeed, some very smart people who are theists. This is enough to refute the claim, I think, that only a complete idiot would believe in God. There are also some very smart people who don't believe in God.

I don't think we can make any useful progress by taking votes, even if we were somehow able to narrow the field of voters only to "smart people", or even "smart people throughout history".

Smart theists and smart atheists have given unsound arguments in favor of their positions. In some cases, they have even admitted that the arguments have been unsound when their errors are pointed out to them. This is as it should be. No one, whatever their religious proclivities, should continue to endorse an argument just because they want the conclusion to be true.

So what happens when a smart person gives us an argument? Do we accept it because the person giving the argument is smart? No. Do we accept it because we happen already to agree with the conclusion? No. We evaluate the argument on its own merits.

Now, here is where I say something that might be controversial. I think reasonable people might sometimes disagree over whether an argument is sound. This means that a theist and an atheist (or agnostic) might look at the same argument and arrive at different views on its soundness.

Consider William Craig's Kalam Cosmological argument, for example. Craig finds that the notion of what he calls an "actual infinite" to be at odds with his intuitions regarding what might possibly exist. Others do not share this intuition, and think that actual infinites might be quite possible. I don't think either side is crazy or irrational on this point (though I do think Craig disingenuously appeals to reason since he has sometimes made it clear that reason doesn't really matter to his convictions).

Anonymous said...

Here is a part I don't understand - how God dealt with his sinful creations before in the Old Testament.

a) He send his earthly minions to wipe them out (eg Joshua and the Israelites versus the Canaanites) or

b) He exercise his supernatural powers to wipe them out (eg Sodom and Gomorrah; eg Flooding the Earth but saving Noah)

But then he apparently have a change of heart in the New Testament - he sent his only son to die for his creations' salvation.

And this is an omniscience, omnipotent, omni-everything Being who cannot even create a perfect human being to begin with? Gimme a break.

sam said...

You noted the inability of humans lacking the knowledge of right & wrong to know that disobedience to an arbitrary authoritative command would be wrong. That is correct.

"And aside from not doing what they were told—recall that freewill is usually celebrated by Christians as God’s great gift to us too—"

It's further unclear how a human being who lacks freewill is able to freely accept the "gift" of freewill before he possesses it. It is more appropriate to say that freewill is a curse, not a gift, within the xian worldview.

If those eternally burning in hell could be asked, “If you could relive your life, would you accept freewill with the risk of hell, or would you accept a life without freewill & a guaranteed perfect, eternal afterlife?”, what sane person would chose the former?

As you've pointed out before, the consequences of some free choices lie far outside our ken. Had Eve been informed of the generational consequences of her disobedience (and had knowledge of good and evil), she may have thought twice. As it stands, she can't be held accountable.

Finally, if the apologist wants to insist that Man’s disobedience is directly responsible for all NATURAL evil in the universe, the apologist must then provide an account of how the act of eating fruit _nonsupernaturally_ imparts knowledge of good & evil, destabilizes plate tectonics, converts herbivores into carnivores, introduces smallpox & malaria, creates hurricanes, introduces drought & famine, & curses all subsequent generations.

jimmy David said...

A bit off-topic, but i sometimes wonder what's the use of a "Jesus" during "Jesus's time"?. I mean, the more i think of it, the more i realise that God should have sent His son when he could actually serve mankind better. During the time Jesus walked the earth, THAT itself basically was the major event that happened around. Imagine how a miracle-capable being could have helped during Hitler's War era or another similar problematic period in human History. So, what was the point of having a Jesus around back then?