Wednesday, January 05, 2005

That sin's not very original . . .

Though I claim no biblical authority whatsoever, my understanding of original sin, and of that whole Garden of Eden episode, is that life is one big struggle to get back to the state in which humanity lived in Eden. In this state, humans lived in perfect harmony with their deity, they didn't reproduce, they didn't have to labor to eat, and they would have had eternal life (obviating the need for reproduction, I guess). Plus, they were naked, which leads me to believe they weren't living in Chicago. Disobeying the deity meant they had to give all that up. Religions vary on the meaning of this story (there's a surprise), but at the core is the notion that humans are inherently sinful. They were once perfect--living in perfect harmony with a deity and all that--but their disobedience and its consequences are a result of their inherently imperfect natures. Thus, the closer one can live in harmony with one's deity, the closer one comes to returning to that Edenic state.

One of the nice things about growing up in an atheist household is that one doesn't learn about things like original sin as part of one's moral education. The whole notion of perfectability--or of the inevitable human departure from that state--really didn't enter into the equation. It sheds a whole different perspective on things like human nature and mistakes and the inevitability thereof, and it gives a different weight to political and social and economic arrangements. That is, the latter aren't punishment for the fall from grace; nor are they an attempt to return to a state of perfect harmony with a deity--they are human arrangements, and it's up to humans to figure out, for example, what a just allocation of resources means in practice as well as in theory. No deity is going to come down and reshuffle things for us, or reward us in an afterlife if we do it properly here--it's up to us to work it out. The very best "what if?" stories ask what happens if we work it out in a particular way.

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