Saturday, May 14, 2011

Original Sin

Normally, when I'm talking with someone about the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, I commonly get around to making the wisecrack: "One would think that it would have occurred to God to warn the poor sods that the Serpent could talk." This is because it doesn't seem quite right what happened to Adam and Eve, and by extension, all of humanity - condemned to a life (and quite possibly an eternity) of suffering because no-one had gotten around to explaining the concept of falsehood to them.

But in a recent discussion that I allowed myself to be dragged into about the concept of Original Sin, and whether or not it was Mortal, another thought occurred to me. If one of the effects of eating the fruit of the tree was to give mankind the knowledge of good and evil, how were Adam and Eve to understand that it was wrong of them to disobey God, and eat the fruit? There's an interesting bit from the Bible account that illustrates this - after eating of the tree, Adam and Eve realize that they are naked, and presumably at the same time, realize that this is a bad state to be in. But surely the nudity taboo didn't materialize out of thin air once they'd eaten the fruit? Adam and Eve were originally naked, but not ashamed because, not having eaten of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," they didn't realize they were doing anything wrong.

In this matter, the Genesis story wanders into a bit of a paradox (neither its first or last, to be sure). It's always a bit difficult to work one's away around Original Sin, and/or the inherent sinfulness of mankind. If you understand that human beings are the creation of God, God must have placed within people the capacity for sin, which he then punishes them for. Hardly seems fair, doesn't it? To a degree, the story of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is designed to get us around that - it was Adam and Eve's actions, not God's creation that is the source of the problem. But if Adam and Evil don't know Good from Evil, how can they still be culpable? You can't really fall back on Thomas Aquinas for this one. His notion that mistaking evil for good is itself culpable negligence doesn't hold up if you assume that Adam and Eve couldn't have known the difference until after they'd eaten of the tree, by which point it was too late.

One of the ideas that I've come across in discussions about Judeo/Christian/Moslem theology is that God is really the only adult in the room - humanity are basically all children, and willful ones at that.In this light, Original Sin was the transition from being young enough to be innocent by virtue of their ignorance to being old enough that they should know better. But if you keep going with this analogy, children don't age out of their innocence willfully - it's a simple matter of the maturation process. More than likely, if you gave them the choice, they wouldn't mature - but in order for them to understand the choice you've given them, it would already be too late.

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