Of all the traditional Christian doctrine, I have always had a problem with doctrine of original sin. In essence, the doctrine of original sin states that ever since Adam and Eve’s disobedience against God in the Garden of Eden, humanity has been born ethically debilitated, and is powerless to rehabilitate itself without the help of God. Honestly, it seems to me that this ridiculous statement, based on taking a myth literally, has been the root of much other bad theology, and has contributed to stunting the spiritual growth of humanity.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
I’d like to believe that the doctrine of original sin has all but disappeared as an archaic notion, but it is still all around us. It is entangled in so much of our social and spiritual conditioning that it is hard to get rid of.
I received an email from a friend with a headline proclaiming: Erase “Original Sin” From Your DNA...
Marguerite Shuster wrote in Christianity Today, “We are corrupt, and creation suffers a curse on account of Adam and Eve’s lapse—and our own.” (April 19, 2013)
I see in the papers of my students over and over again the statement that they “know they are sinners.” Another woman recently said to me, “I know I’m a sinner and I need Jesus and God in my life to help me to be a better person.”
The doctrine of original sin, conceived of by Bishop Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century, assumed a literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve. But for those of us who take the Bible seriously, not literally, we’ve done our homework, we know that scholars agree that the story of Adam and Eve (in Genesis 2), and the Genesis 1 story of the seven days of creation, WERE MYTHS. Both were written long after the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Moses and the Exodus. The Adam and Eve story was written about 900 BCE while Genesis 1 was written about 500 BCE (during or shortly after the exile as an attempt to proclaim that the God of the Israelites was still ruler of the universe. The Babylonian God may have won the battle – hence the exile – but will not win the war.) Jesus never heard the concept of original sin, nor is it biblical.
Simply because they are myths does not mean they don’t convey truth. Myths are written to convey truths that are hard to explain – they are about our cosmology, social order, ethics, morality, and awe.
If we examine these two stories from the perspective of myth and metaphor we find that share many “truths” of what they believed and how things were:
- God/goddess is the source of all that is (remember Proverbs 8 says that Wisdom was the skilled artisan at Yahweh’s side at the creation of the world).
- All that is, IS GOOD.
- We are creatures of the earth and we are mortal. From the earth we have come and to the earth we shall return.
- We do toil on the earth and childbirth is painful (that was already the case when the myth was written)
- Subjugation of woman to men
- Why the snake crawls on the ground
- Why the woman and the snake are enemies (not snake and man, which is interesting, I think it serves to denigrate the snake as the ancient symbol of the divine feminine.)
None of these say anything about original sin. I think it would have been wonderful if the church had (instead of original sin) chosen to emphasize our original blessing – we were created good! But that wouldn’t have served nearly as neatly to keep humanity in a position of dependence upon the church. To keep humanity dependent on the priest’s power to forgive sins. To keep us on our knees asking for forgiveness, but never believing that we could be good enough to have it stick.
Now we’ve had generation after generation of people who were taught, by the church or social osmosis, that their very nature is sinful. I wasn’t raised in the church, but I got the message… you aren’t good enough. Perhaps my parents being raised in the church was enough for that to get passed on to me. Maybe now it is simply part of our genetic makeup in the same way the Irish Potato famine caused an epigenetic change in people that lasted for several generations. The famine stopped, but much of Christianity still touts this spiritually abusive doctrine.
When it has been so ingrained in us that we are inherently faulty, I’m not even sure how we break the cycle. But we must, because there is no such thing as original sin. Our inherent nature is good, not bad. Anger, guilt, shame, hurting others, hurting ourselves, is not our authentic state. Humanity is broken. We’ve been hurt and broken, and in turn have hurt and broken others. But that is not our authentic state.
Underneath all this, at the core of our being where we find our goodness, we also find our sacredness, we find the Divine, we find the pure essence of love. We’ve touched it, we’ve felt it, we’ve lived moments out of it… but then we get sucked back into negative, harmful behaviors.
We cannot give up. We must somehow strive to break this cycle that has hold. We need to remind ourselves, our children, our loved ones that we are GOOD and to be truly ourselves is to be a BLESSING to others.
I heard of a person once whose daily morning prayer was “Let me be a blessing to someone today.”
What a great prayer! It reminds us of our inherent blessedness, our inherent goodness. It sort of says, “Hey, God, look, I want to live out of my goodness today, so feel free to help create that opportunity for me.” And once we have stated the intention to live our blessedness, we have prepared ourselves to be aware and watch for those opportunities. Give it a shot.
You are good. You are an original blessing.