unoriginal sin

“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
― Oscar Wilde

Meditation: “Saying the mantra ma-ra-na-tha is like rune reading the pattern on the side of a snake as it slithers by.””

Via Negativa

What’s so original about original sin?

I guess there has to be a first time for everything so for the originals of the species, Adam and Eve, I suppose technically the first bite was the deepest. And it led to the sweat of the brow in both hard labour and child birth for all of us who dwell east of Eden.

I don’t blame my misdemeanours on inexperienced scrumpers. Even the country with the highest prison population, the Unites States, has a three strike rule. It seems a bit harsh to me to expel your offspring made in your image for their first offence.

It’s not the sin that is original – we all have a propensity to miss the mark (which is what the Hebrew word for sin means) and anyone with kids knows only too well that a sure fire way to encourage disobedience is to forbid something. “Whatever you do don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is asking for trouble. Using reverse, if risky, psychology on my kids I encouraged them to partake of the falling down water and puff the magic dragon on the grounds that they wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. It worked .. for a while anyway.

No, it’s not the idea or fact of sin that is original it is the … I have to use the word … original idea that it is an inherited disease without remission that is new. Life becomes a sexually transmitted disease. The author of this mortal curse on the human race was not God or the writer of Genesis where the story of The Fall appears, nor even Mark E Smith the author of The Fall. In fact, the word ‘sin’ does not appear in the Garden of Eden story at all. The first time the word ‘sin’ appears in Genesis is chapter 4 when Cain kills Abel. Now that, as the Pet Shop Boys might sing, is a sin.

No, the author and perfecter of the original sin doctrine was St Augustine who was so ashamed of his debauched early years he wrote a book of Confessions about them. As surprising as Tracey Emin writing Scouting for Girls. If he was on Tinder he would confess to being a ‘player’. This, by the way, was in AD400 – 1,000 years after the writer of Genesis. It’s a little surprising the forbidden fruit story was around that long before it received its mortal spin. And, as Matthew Fox points out in ‘Original Blessing’, after God created heaven and earth it was declared ‘good’ for 6,000 years (if you believe the strict Biblical chronology or about 13 billion years otherwise) before Adam and Eve upset the apple cart. Yet Augustine’s concept of original sin took root in the early church like a worm in an apple which contaminated the whole barrel. Why?

Well, the cynic in me sees it as an opportunity for the early church hierarchy (all male)  to position itself as the mediator for sin. If everyone is tarred with the same original sin brush and only the clergy can absolve they have a stranglehold over the laity. It’s also not lost on me that original sin places the blame on women and being portrayed as the temptress her sexuality is forever suspect. As Adam says to God when they’re caught apple-handed, “She gave it to me.” Snitch.

But why did Augustine’s grotesque idea take hold of the whole church? After all he was only the Bishop of Hippo not the Pope. Two reasons. He was very good at social media, publishing and distributing over 1,000 books and homilies of which the most famous are City of God and Confessions which itself ran to 13 volumes and was very successful and widely read in his own time. The other reason has a resonance for our time. In 410AD the unthinkable happened. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths. Bearing in mind that by this time Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire it must have felt like the impending fall of a whole civilisation as indeed it was and Augustine’s uncompromising take on the inheritability of sin must have been as appealing as Richard Dawkins evangelical zeal for the selfish gene is to atheists.
But there is another more compelling interpretation of The Fall. The sin wasn’t disobeying the fruit embargo. Even the fruit of the tree of Life was not forbidden which would offer eternal life for man. No – it was the sin of separation from union with God as a consequence of triggering the knowledge of good and evil that did the damage. A sort of original Brexit. With the knowledge of good and evil comes discrimination – this is good, that is bad. And with a discriminating mind comes names and forms and concepts – the collapse of unity. What was the immediate consequence of that fateful bite? They hid from God – separation – and they were ashamed of their nakedness. There was no separation and no shame before the knowledge of good and evil.
The Fall was a fall in consciousness. From union to separation. From freedom to bondage. From Eden to an endangered planet.
“There is nothing original about me except a little original sin.” Jane Bowles