Original Sin: Is the Fault in the Manufacturer?

If God created the Body, and the Body is dirty, then the fault lies with the Manufacturer.–Lenny Bruce: Swear to tell the truth 1998, courtesy of Wikiquote.

My second year in high school (34 years past, alas!) the Burt Reynolds movie The End came out.  It is a dark comedy about a relatively shallow and moderately successful man (Reynolds) who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He tries to come to grips with this, and tries to mend fences with those he’s hurt in the past.  Failing this, he decides to die on his own terms rather than dying slowly of cancer, and resolves to commit suicide.  Over the course of the movie he makes several attempts (all either ineffective or thwarted), is institutionalized, meets a fellow inmate who is a complete nutcase (played by Dom DeLuise) , and breaks out along with the nutcase, who has vowed to help him.

After many misadventures, the Burt Reynolds character decides to take decisive action.  He goes to the beach and swims hundreds of  yards out to sea, where he resolves to sink and drown.  As he starts to do this, he realizes he doesn’t want to die, and would rather cling to whatever life is left to him.  He begins doggedly swimming back to shore, unsure he can make it, and beings bargaining with God (the clip above).  He makes grandiose promises of all the ways he’ll reform his life; but as he gets closer and closer to shore, realizing that he’ll make it, he starts cutting back on the promises.  He goes from promising to  give 50% of his income to charity to 10%; and he similarly whittles away at the other promises.  Realizing what he’d doing, he exclaims, “I know You saved me, Lord; but it was also You who made me sick!”  

This is a cute one-liner, but it reveals a much deeper theological issue.

God is said to have created humans (and the angels, too) in a state of complete innocence and sinlessness.  The angels, and later the humans, are said to have fallen by freely choosing to sin.  We’ve already looked at the issue with regard to humans and angels.  At the end of “The Apple and the Multiverse”, I said, adding emphasis to my original,

It seems, anyway, that either, for some reason we can’t quite fathom, a free being necessarily sins sooner or later, in which case God had no choice in making a world in which the Fall occurred; or that such beings are possible, but that a world containing them would be less good than the one in which we live.  It doesn’t seem possible to confirm or disprove the first possibility, although I may come back to it at a later date.  The second–that this world is better than an unfallen one–is intriguing; and while I’m not advocating the views of Doctor Pangloss, I think this possibility deserves a closer look.  I’ll save that until I’ve developed some other ideas in coming posts, but I will return to it.

After discussing the fallen angels in the next post, I added to the above statement without explicitly saying so, adding emphasis again:

Thus, it would seem to be metaphysically necessary that God create beings that will drift away from Him before coming back to Him so that they will be true individuals who are not mere puppets of God.  The Atonement is necessary because the Fall is necessary.  This is an interesting concept that I’ll develop more as we go on.

In a sense, this is a restatement of the idea of the felix culpa, the Fortunate Fall.  It’s not that God wants evil in the world per se, certainly not as much of it as we see.  Rather, He wants beings that are truly independent, truly free, not puppets.  This can be done only by creating beings that are not only, in a sense “separate” from God–not so close that they are “absorbed” in the Divine and thus have no freedom–but far enough separate that some kind of rupture or fall is inevitable.  The ultimate goal–free beings which have of their own volition returned to God and achieved union with Him in a way that will preserve them from further sin and evil, but which leaves their individuality intact–is great enough to justify all the nastiness leading up to it.  The end will be great–it’s just a matter of getting there.

Parenthetically, all this is from a more or less dualist–what Hindus would call dvaita–perspective, that is, the perspective of seeing God and His creatures as separate.  From an advaita (non-dualistic) viewpoint, there is no separation between Him and us beyond our illusion (māyā) that such is the case.  I’m not quite in either camp–I’m more Dvaitadvaita, taking a little from both.  In any case, I’m not excluding by this the idea of the Universe as God’s method of self-knowledge, which would imply a more Advaita view; but I want to save that discussion for later. 

In any case, the point here is that the evil and imperfection of the world are ultimately, if indirectly, attributable to God Himself.  He knows ahead of time–knows eternally, in fact–that grief, suffering, and woe will result when He creates intelligent beings that are capable of true freedom of will and action.  Though in my model it is the fallen angels, not God, who are responsible for the chop-job of the observed cosmos, nevertheless God made them, and made them capable of falling, and knowing that they would fall.  Ditto for humans and human sin.

This is why I put the quote from Lenny Bruce here.  He was speaking in terms of sex, but the same thing applies more broadly.  We are responsible for our sins, as are the fallen angels; but we did not make the arena in which sin is possible.  In a sense, the imperfect world of suffering and evil in which we live and the sins which we are capable of committing are not in fact bugs, but features.  The fault indeed is in the maker.

Now I’m not “blaming” God for my faults or anyone else’s.  I’m not trying to say that I am a helpless pawn who cannot do otherwise than he does, nor am I trying to eliminate the idea of personal responsibility.  Nor am I saying that God directly wills the evils of the cosmos.  What I am saying is that there are implications for the Atonement and the Fall in looking at things in this way.

1.  The Fall (and thus Original Sin, all the evil caused by humans since, and also the  evil in the cosmos pre-existing the Fall) was in fact necessary and inevitable.  

2.  Therefore the evil in the world, including (but not limited to) that which we are responsible for is in a sense instrumental for the larger good at the end of time.

3.  Two is true not in the simplistic, Panglossian sense of cheerfully assuming that every atrocity or tragedy must “be for the good!”  Rather it’s that in the macroscopic picture, the kind of cosmos we have, with all its ugliness, is a necessary step in getting to the perfect and redeemed one that is God’s ultimate goal.  Thus, no specific evil is an instrument of the Greater Good; rather the milieu in which specific evils occur is the instrument of such.

The implications this has for the Atonement–and who receives the benefit of it–are the topic of the next post in this series.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 03/10/2012, in Catholicism, Christianity, Gnosticism, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. It would seem then that there was no Original Sin as a discrete act, but rather, an unavoidable condition of which sin is a necessary component.

    • Yes–that would be a succinct statement of my position.

      • The problem with this argument is the same one which arises no matter how you view the concept of “original sin” – a concept which, by the way, I consider the greatest and most evil myth ever foisted upon humanity. That problem comes about from the idea of eternal damnation. If God created an environment in which sin is inevitable, then He set the rules of the game, as it were, so that most of humanity would suffer eternal consequences for finite acts. This is unconscionable. In this scenario, there is no hope for those who, for whatever reason, fail to worship the Christian God and die in that state; no possibility for them to achieve “union with Him in a way that will preserve them from further sin and evil”. They are damned for all eternity.

        As an unrepentant, practicing homosexual member of the human species, I am considered to be bound for eternal fire purely and simply because I love and am sexually attracted to members of my own gender; a condition which I did not choose (no matter what certain Abrahamist believers have to say about it) and which has pertained all of my life. I am not, nor have I ever been, capable of responding sexually to women. Presumably, God – if such a being exists – made me this way. Under this scenario, He must not only have set me up to “fall”, but made it doubly difficult for me to achieve salvation; essentially, He condemned me either to eternal fire or to a life of loveless celibacy. How is this in any way morally justifiable?

        In fact, how is it justifiable that God created Hell in the first place? If He wants independent beings that have freely chosen to return to Him after falling, why not make reincarnation part of the scenario, so that everyone gets as many chances as they need to be redeemed? Surely that is a preferable option to the idea of an ever-expanding number of souls condemned to Hell forever.

      • Graduand, you misperceive me–I’m on your side. The entire point of this series is to argue that the doctrine of Original Sin, as traditionally expressed, is, in fact defective. Now it is obvious that humans are flawed–if you don’t want to call that “Original Sin”, you can call it avidya (“ignorance”) as Buddhists do, or maya (“illusion”) as Hindus do, or you could consider this Gnostic (and thus non-orthodox) take here.

        Anyway, I agree with you that a God who created a cosmos with sinning beings whom He set up for perdition would be monstrous. I have said that many times, for example here. I am also upfront about being a universalist–I believe all will be saved, and in fact wrote an entire series explaining and justifying my belief in universalism. I believe sinners (that is, all of us) will have to experience a period of purification of varying length (Hitler, I assume, will need more than Gandhi)–what is traditionally called Purgatory–but I think that we will all return to God in the end.

        For reasons I explain here, I’m not really too keen on the concept of reincarnation; but I do think it can be reconciled with Christian belief–which is why I wrote a series on it, too. Another interesting perspective on reincarnation comes from Jeremy Puma’s blog, which I linked to above.

        Does this make sense?

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