Monday, 25 March 2013

Original Sin or Original Blessing?

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Recently  a national Catholic weekly published an article in which several ‘experts’ or academics again tried to explain how ‘Original Sin’ has been responsible for much of the pain and suffering in this world. The article read as follows: 


Mankind’s natural desires behind our sinfulness


The Catholic Register March 24, 2013  p.21


Mankind's capacity to sin comes from an unquenchable thirst to consume rather than a direct desire to act sinfully, according to Kathleen Roberts Skerrett.

The dean of arts at the Uni­versity of Richmond in Virginia was exploring the concept of original sin at a roundtable dis­cussion March 12 at Toronto's University of St. Michael's College. Roberts Skerrett was one of three academics who gave their views during the afternoon discussion The Evolution of Sin: Past, Present and Future.

"Human beings have inde­terminate desires," said Roberts Skerrett. "Our ordinary desires for food, sex and sociality do no have an object that satisfies them. There is always a kind of going beyond the job, not so much insatiability, but more uncertainty of end in human desire."

For Roberts Skerrett, the source of sinfulness is a derivative of our thirst for more rather than a willful desire to sin. In other words, human beings have an innate tendency to sin but do possess the free will to act contrary to these inclinations. Free will means that our sins, although influenced by an innately engrained and often subconscious inclination towards sinfulness, are an expression of freedom.

"There is something that drives us constantly beyond the goals that an animal desire would set for itself," said Roberts Skerrett, author of Original Sin in the 21st Century: The Wanton, the Addict, the Pervert and the Deviant. "We are constantly pressing past or transcending or going beyond the object of an animal or embodied desire."

Roberts Skerrett categorized the tendencies of humanity to push beyond the most basic satis­faction of our desires — the way in which an animal would act — into four characteristics.

The first is the wanton, a tendency towards continual stim­ulation and attention which sac­rifices quality of satisfaction for frequency.

"The wanton wants a little hit of stimulation and attention, a little bit of pleasure on a regular basis. Facebook was made for the wanton," she said.

Second, all human beings suffer from the tendency of the addict who strives for pleasure over pain.

"The addict finds something to fix it for however long," she said. "It keeps going to recalculate the pleasure-pain dynamic in one's soul by hitting that fix over and over again."

This tendency, which can find satisfaction in the practice of devotion through prayer, repre­sents our metabolization of utility — the maximization of pleasure in one's life.

Third, she noted that everyone has a tendency toward perversion, in that humans view all of creation as a means to satisfy our desires.

"There is no sense of these other beings as having a use or value other than the use or value of being bought and sold," she said.

Finally, humanity is plagued with deviant tendencies which have manifested a culture of dis­ciplinary institutions: prisons, militaries, even schools. Roberts Skerrett noted that these institu­tions, which range from punish­ment to employment, function as a means of using individuals for a rational purpose with the expecta­tion they will exemplify self-con­trol of their own desires. "The person who is identified as deviant is constantly and systemically extracted from purpose­ful life," she said. "The end of the deviant is to be extracted from all purpose. What the deviant most needs is mission and purpose in order to orient life in order to orient desire."

By casting the concept of original sin in this light, it becomes the theme of our political and ethical discourse in secular society. Doing so, she said, explains why we sin.

Ephraim Radner, a professor of historical theology at the Univer­sity of Toronto's Wycliffe College, said a more traditional Augustine view better explains our sinful actions — at least those of the past century or so.

Global conflicts, genocides and capitalism's quest for greater satis­faction through further industri­alization without regard for harm caused to creation are all signs that humanity is not just inclined to sin, but that sinful acts are in our nature. "We are all brutal people," said Radner, author of Cross-Cultural Encounters in the 17th and 20th Century Compared: The Miti­gation and Return of Original Sin. To ground this argument Radner focused heavily on the suffering of infants, citing their susceptibility to pain, hunger and disease as signs that we are innately damned and need salvation.

"Infants suffer because they are damned and they're damned because all of us and Adam are damned," he said. "There is no other possible reason to explain why children go through this."

Therefore infants are born with a universal damnation due to original sin's inherent condemna­tion which can only be distanced through the sacrament of Baptism, though he noted we are still at risk of sinning, and will, following this ritual.

Fr. Clement Majawa, a theology professor from the Catholic Uni­versity of Eastern Africa, agreed with Radner that sinning is un­avoidable by man because human beings are damned from the moment they are conceived.

"Like a shadow evil, or sin, is an inseparable reality which follows each person throughout life," said Majawa, author of Sin, Reconcilia­tion and Mission in African Chris­tianity and Global Transformation. Similar to Radner, Majawa ref­erenced the suffering of Africans as proof of the universal condem­nation of humanity which can only be momentarily lifted off our shoulders through religious sacra­ments.
How can we as Christians best respond to this intensely negative view which many  still hold?  Others such as Matthew Fox in his book ‘Original Blessing’ (2000) suggest that it will first be necessary to understand the question of Original Sin in its cultural and theological context.  For example Fox states:

  1. Original blessing is far more ancient and more biblical a doctrine.
  2. The Council of Trent never said what original sin means.
  3. Augustine mixed his doctrine of original sin with his peculiar notions about sexuality.
  4. Whatever is said of original sin, it is far less hallowed and original than are love and desire.
  5. Doctrine is not the basis of faith or its starting point.
  6. Since doctrine is for people, not people for doctrine it is important to consider this question:  How much pain and how much sin have come about because of an exaggerated emphasis on the doctrine of original sin?
  7. The sooner churches embrace the more primitive doctrine of original blessing, the more compassionate our living will be.
You will have to purchase Matthew Fox’s book for a detailed explanation behind these points, however they should provide and offer the reader more food for thought.

In the meantime is it not time to re-examine our understanding of `Original Sin`?

The negative focus on mankind`s natural desires (see article above) completely contradicts and detracts from the Good News and Jesus` promise ʺI have come in order that you might have life-life in all its fullness``. (John 10:10)  Have we forgotten that we are ALL Holy Creations capable of untold Holy actions as well as unholy reactions? The Good News is that God is more interested in our potential than our sins.  When we miss the mark, meaning "sin" it can become the stepping stone toward God`s free gift of salvation and renew us in a new life in Christ.  For most of us this can take a life time, yet from the very beginning God promised   ″I will lead you and be with you.  ``I will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid.`` (Deuteronomy 31:6)   

Until we realize that God’s greatest gift to humankind is our freedom to choose, we will probably never understand what it means to be loved unconditionally. This universal gift, according to Jesus, is bestowed on ALL of humankind when he said ″for he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil″ (Matthew 5:45).  Nowhere in scripture does Jesus ever suggest that salvation is dependent on baptism. Rather when we choose to be baptized it means that like Jesus we ʺagree to do all that God requires″.  Furthermore, Jesus taught that children are already in the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3). The battle against evil was won a long time ago – it is merely our refusal to accept its victory that prevents us from loving God, our neighbor and ourselves.

 Perhaps now we can begin to better understand and  experience Original Sin as God`s `Original Blessing`!   

One of the disconcerting-and delightful

-teachings of the Master was: ʺGod is

closer to sinners than to saints. ʺ

This is how he explained it: ʺGod heaven

holds each person by a string.  When you sin,

you cut the string.  The God ties is up again,

making a know-and thereby bringing you a

little closer to him.  Again and again your sins

cut the string-and with each further knot

God keeps drawing you closer and closer. ʺ

-  Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom

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