At first sight, Eve and Adam sampling the fruit of a tree in the Garden of Eden might seem to be no big deal. There should have been, however, a sudden ferocious burst of lightning and an ear-splitting drum roll of thunder, to mark the fact that the recently made, ‘perfectly’ good Earth, had suddenly suffered a catastrophic calamity. Because a single instruction given by God had been disobeyed, Sin had entered the world along with its henchman Death. The human nature of Adam and Eve had been contaminated and forever tainted by a monstrous defect, to be inherited thereafter by the entirety of their offspring. This has condemned all of us to suffer the punishment of a tortured eternity in the mercilessly burning pit of Hell. Now I don’t know about you but, to me, this seems just a teeny little bit over the top.
Let’s first of all pull the rug from underneath “original sin”. In a word, it’s bunkum. There was no Garden of Eden, no walking, talking snake (sad to say), no trees of life or good and evil, and no Adam and Eve, the ‘original sinners’, and therefore no ‘original’ sin for any of us to ‘inherit’. Failure to let go of this nonsense, however, led to its proliferation in weighty and authoritative consideration of exactly how original sin is ‘inherited’. According to Augustine, (of “Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” fame), male semen is the means by which original sin is made heritable. To take this codology one step further, this means that Jesus, who was conceived without semen, was thereby free of the sin passed down from Adam. Well now, isn’t that a huge relief?
What is here unforgivable, is the transformation of the possibility of free, innocent and blissful pleasure in sex, into something guilt-ridden and shameful, to be hidden from sight and sound. By the middle ages, the Christian Church had become obsessive in its prurient pursuit of who, when and how. Sex was ‘tolerated’ solely for properly married men and women wanting a child, and only at certain times, (not fast days, feast days or Sundays), while certain positions (69 ‘comes’ to mind) were absolutely off-piste. The damage done to human relationships is past measurement, and one spinoff, in the disaster area of priestly celibacy, has been the sexual abuse of children, and an associated cover-up on a shamefully epic scale.
Since bad plots thicken, the ‘problem’ then arose of unbaptised, dead children. In the absence of baptism ‘washing away’ original sin. the logic was crystal clear, and the destination was eternal hell. Happily, however, some small consideration was given to the huge pain inflicted on already grieving parents, but only by the ‘inspired’ invention of Limbo, an indeterminately long ‘waiting room’, in no way offering the pleasures of heaven, but at least, not yet, the punishments of hell. We were to be properly thankful for (exceedingly and preposterously) small ‘mercies’.
So why had this pernicious ‘original sin’ idea to be held on to, no matter how many needlessly self-created, tortuously convoluted problems it gave rise to? It provided an ‘explanation’ for the humiliating crucifixion of Jesus who, rather than the triumphant, messianic ruler of the earthly kingdom of God, risked becoming the failed and rejected preacher from Galilee. Instead, he was turned into a ‘second Adam’, who reversed the curse of original sin, and brought forgiveness and eternal life to believers. The fact that his death by crucifixion is explained, simply, by his being regarded as a dangerous rabble-rouser in the potentially riotous powder-keg of an overcrowded Jerusalem at Passover time, was somehow beside the point.
All this, to me, is a reminder that although ideas are in one sense ‘insubstantial’, in another sense, taken to extremes, their ‘weight’ becomes insupportable. As with ‘original sin’, so with the sincere and euphoric belief of some of Jesus’ original followers that they’d seen him alive again. This idea led, through his progressive ‘divinisation’, which included tempestuous arguments about whether (a difference of one letter) he was homo-ousios (of the same substance) or homoi-ousios (of similar substance) as his ‘Father’, to the eventually paradoxical (or nonsensical) doctrine of the ‘Holy Trinity’. When a journey starts to become tortuously convoluted, arguably, it’s time to stop the bus, get off, bid farewell to the likes of ‘original sin’, (and ‘Holy Trinity’), and head off in a more promising direction.