America’s Original Sin

Hans Baldung Grien, "Eve, Serpent and Death"

Hans Baldung Grien, “Eve, Serpent and Death”

W.J. Astore

I’m a Catholic, so of course I know all about Original Sin.  For disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Eve would suffer the pains of childbirth, and both she and Adam would age and die, their earthly bodies returning to the dust from which they came.

I always thought Eve got a bad rap in that story.  She was, after all, tempted by Lucifer, a fallen angel in the shape of a serpent.  Whereas Adam simply gave in to a mild suggestion by Eve to join her.  Eve was tricked by the Master of Deceit, but Adam just joined in for the heck of it, and she shoulders the blame?

Of course, one might see Original Sin as part of God’s master plan.  For without that sin, there would be no need for God to send his only begotten son to redeem mankind.  No Original Sin, no New Testament.  No Beatitudes.  No Roman Catholic Church.  No Christianity.

And without Christianity and its evangelizing zeal, America would doubtless be a far different land.   Assuming Europeans still came to the New World in roughly 1500, would subsequent history be less bloody in the absence of Christianity?  Or would naked conquest have been unrestrained by any moral code of restraint and compassion?

The United States has an original sin as well.  It is the impiety of considering our country as being uniquely favored by God.  American history shows how we’ve killed, enslaved, and otherwise violated God’s great commandment of loving thy neighbor, even as we continue loudly to shout how God uniquely showers His praises on us.  God Bless America!

Is America’s original sin part of some master plan?  How will we redeem ourselves from its awful legacies?  My dad once joked that in school he almost solved an unsolvable equation; I confess I have no solution to such questions.

Readers, have at it in the comments section below.  Is the very idea of Original Sin mysterious and magisterial, or mischievous and misleading?  Have humans evolved beyond the need for God and gods?  Is “sin” a misleading term to apply to America’s past, too metaphysical, too imprecise?  Are there simply too many “chosen people” in this world, too many people who elevate themselves above others just because they believe they share a favored relationship to God?

It’s a grey and rainy day here — a good day for thinking.  Join in.

15 thoughts on “America’s Original Sin

  1. Without sin life could be pretty dull. That doesn’t excuse “mortal sin” which is what nations do.
    Man invented the concept of “sin” and religious institutions utilized that concept to build vast temples and maintain a smug clergy who indulged in sin whilst stealing the fun out of their followers lives.
    Man is another animal who lives on this unique habitat we call “Earth” and has succeeded, with the help of religions, to make it a perfect hell at times.
    There has to be another way to organize thinking beasts like us into a thoughtful, and civilized life. If you have any ideas, please let us know.

    • An interesting concept, “mortal” sin. As opposed to “venial” sin. By my Catholic training, a mortal sin is one that imperils your soul. In other words, it promises an immortality in which you’re estranged from God. A sin that is grievous — and perhaps unforgivable.

      But what sin is worse than denying life to others? We must stop murdering others. We must stop denying life to them. We must have the strength to extend an olive branch rather than a sword.

      Far too many in the USA are still in love with the sword. They should remember the Good Book: Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.

      How about we start beating our drones into harvesters, and our Hellfire missiles into pruning hooks, and making war no more. How’s that for a start?

  2. Original sin is failure to grasp and acknowledge that all life and all things are sacred. Wars of aggression, rightfully described as the “supreme crime”, are carried out by individuals who clearly have not attained that understanding. Today, war and peace decision-makers in their discussions rarely if ever express distress, sadness, compassion or elevated concern for those who’ve been killed or whose lives have become unimaginably difficult. These decision-makers, for unknown, complex reasons, never mention the need to intensively focus on solutions which have the best chance of resulting in the most people gaining that highest wisdom of all life as sacred.
    The “life review” described by many who’ve had the near death experience is absolutely fascinating because during every person-to-person encounter they have in the course of their life they feel what the other person felt, whether in the first grade, with family members, during wartime, etc. Every life event, no matter how insignificant, becomes replayed while the experiencer feels the effects their actions have on others.
    If at age 7 he/she said something unkind to another, they felt the pain of the other child. If at age 20 he/she said something loving to another, they felt the joy of the person on the receiving end of the loving gesture.
    As one who has read moderately on the near death experience and the world’s religious traditions, it was interesting to see a strong correlation between the “life review” of near death experiencers and strongly emphasized assertions in the Quran.
    After buying a used copy of the Quran years ago in a resale shop, finally a few weeks ago actually read it for the first time. All through the text the concept of the impossibility of escaping some form of inevitable accounting for one’s actions while alive on Earth comes across as the strongest of all the spiritual teachings in the Quran.
    Perhaps full attainment of ultimate reality is only possible when one makes “the transition” – more commonly known as dying. One more corroboration of the focus of this comment, spiritual accountability being absolute truth, is illustrated by the phrase “nothing will remain hidden”. Some see such ways of perceiving as beyond intellectual. At any rate, looking around the Earth any increase in publicly expressed, collective spiritual wisdom would be a positive and good thing.

    • Well put, Jerry. I wonder if the worst “sin” is to elevate oneself to the level of a god. Again, the idea of a chosen people with dominion over “inferiors” and “outsiders.” Because once you view people in terms of heretics and infidels and unbelievers and all those other negative categories, it becomes far easier to oppress them and to deny them life. Especially when you think of yourself as “chosen.”

  3. An Ungodly interpretation

    According to a book I read there was a time when the highest authority in the world, known as God, forbid the only two people to taste knowledge. Without knowledge these two people were so ignorant that they didn’t even know what sex was. A lowly creature who crawled near grass roots convinced the woman, who then convinced the man, to bite into knowledge.

    When they had tasted knowledge, the two young people ran out of the authority’s garden (it was boring as hell) to live life on life’s terms.

    It was a very old book.
    (from http://systemhumanity.com/)

  4. As an empiricist and secularist, I do not require theistic beliefs (god) nor religious concepts (sin) to appreciate the gravity of America’s numerous transgressions. I do not see “evil” in the leaders responsible for perpetrating them, but I do see the negative consequences. I see leaders who haven’t the courage to act on principle, relying solely and coldly on pragmatic calculation. I also see leaders as flawed human beings often incapable of responsibly wielding the power entrusted to them. I see a nation deeply troubled by its own delusions, where sublime fantasy is accepted as fact and where inconvenient truths are buried in a cesspool of denial.

    • Yes. I see that. Growing up, I was a big fan of Mr. Spock and his reliance on reason and logic. But then I had the Catholic church telling me all about sin and evil and God and miracles. I think there’s room for both, the physical and the metaphysical, the secular and the sacred. The problem comes when people would deny reason for the sake of their religion, or to deny goodness for the sake of oppressing others for their “sins.”

      • How did religion and “magic” (metaphysical) ideas gain acceptance in human history.
        Let us remember, with humility, that as recently as the fourteenth to the sixteenth century in a “civilized” Europe the common knowledge among the educated was that the Earth was flat and was the center of the universe. People were executed for heresy by questioning these primitive theories.
        Now imagine how very early primitive man might have looked at the natural world without the advantages of mathematics and the concept of science. They saw a sun rise and set and saw violent storms that interrupted those pleasant warm days. All of these natural events were beyond the limited world they experienced of their primitive tool accomplishing a very primitive task. What ‘force’ made the sun rise and fall and the storms come? None of them could do this so they may have ascribed this to a” god “ or some other source. Some worshipped the sun as a god and others used totems for representing these forces they did not understand and by worshipping they hoped to gain control over them. . The concept of modern religion, I believe, grew out of these very primitive impulses of early man.
        So we see modern religions using the same fear of the real fragile human condition to give people the sense that if they pray five times a day, dutifully count their beads, dress in black and say their prayers, and go to church on Sunday, they will go to heaven. And if they don’t do these ridiculous things they may live another life in hell.
        Some may rightly raise the point that all of these religions also established guides for “civilized” behavior. We can only ask, if that is so why are we, a supposedly Christian country executing people by drone and poison? Why are professed religious Muslims, Saudi Arabia, beheading people, and why is a Jewish state waging perpetual war on their weak Palestinian neighbors?
        There has to be a better way for mankind than magic thinking.

      • Religion has definitely been a mixed blessing in history. Still, religion has often advanced a strong and admirable ethical message. The problem, of course, is that so many “believers” prefer to argue about abstruse tenets of doctrine, or oppress others who don’t share their beliefs, and so on. By doing so, they violate that core ethical message, whether they know it or not.

        Religious belief certainly grew out of a range of human emotions and desires: wonder, ignorance, a quest for meaning, for enlightenment, and so on. The incredible richness of the world’s religions is surely a testimony to the depth and complexity of the human spirit.

        Certainly, a strong turnoff for me was the “old” Catholic church that taught that salvation was impossible outside of the Church. The smugness, the conceit, was too much for me. I respect those religions/belief systems that teach respect for life in all its forms; that preach tolerance and understanding; that encourage compassion for those less fortunate; that inculcate a passion for helping others.

        My favorite song in church was “Whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me”: the idea that service to those less fortunate is pleasing and righteous in the eyes of God. If we lived by that “golden rule,” the world would truly be a better place.

        Since I didn’t go to church today, does this discussion count as “keeping holy the sabbath day”? :-)

  5. While the concept of original sin is wholly a man-made concept, simplistic on the surface, the metaphysisist would say that the PrimeMover/God created ‘evil’ or duality, the existance of good and evil, in order to experience himself. Therefore evil is neccessary for life, but will never gain the upper hand since it is a creation of good. Just sayin’,

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