Thursday, August 4, 2011

Original Sin and Original Christianity

From an old friend who is a former Catholic and now Eastern Orthodox.  I've known other Orthodox (the Original!) Christians but I never paid much attention to their theology, just their calendar.  She posted the following on Facebook, and I found it interesting but still just a fantasy.  Here's the original post and some of the (very short) thread:

For those of you who enjoy discussing Christian theology--are people born evil? Here's what I believe:

Original sin

In Eastern Orthodoxy, God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus changing the "perfect" mode of existence of man to the "flawed" mode of existence of man. This flawed nature and all that has come from it is a result of that "original sin". All humanity shares in the sin of Adam because like him, they are human. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification. Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism or, in the case of the Theotokos, the moment Christ took form within her.

This view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam.[6] According to the Orthodox, humanity inherited the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference stems from Augustine's interpretation of a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that all of humanity sins as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. The Orthodox Church does not teach that all are born deserving to go to hell, and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that derive from the Augustinian understanding of original sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.

Me:  If God is all-powerful, why couldn't he just erase all that original sin? If he's a benevolent deity, why wouldn't he just forgive everyone outright without all the drama of the crucifixion? If he's omniscient, why didn't he know that Adam & Eve would make that wrong choice? (hat tip Epicurus)  and Question: if humans have the stain of original sin until baptism, then wouldn't abortion be the killing of a sinner, not an innocent?

Another poster: Sin is something you can't erase. . . . you just forgive. That's the key to understanding original sin. Sin separates. . . .the cross bridges the chasm between God and man. The effects are never gone until we get to heaven. That, in a nutshell, is your answer you are seeking.

Me:  If God is all-powerful why can't he erase sin?

My friend:  It would be kind of like forcing someone to love you. God gives free will to the humans He created, and sometimes we choose anything but love. God doesn't want us to be slaves. Free will is a wonderful, horrible thing.  Beyond that, I'm not a good apologist for Christianity. I can't express myself the way others do....these beliefs are too deep in my heart and soul for words. All I know is God is good, and maybe the answers you want can come from someone other than me.

I sent her a link to my post, Feelings Aren't Facts and asked her if it was okay for me to post this "discussion."  I think she is a perfect example of my theory that believers will believe because it makes them feel good, not because of any thinking.  Even though she knows some of the theology of her branch of Christianity, she falls back on "beliefs are too deep in my heart and soul for words."  If reason and rationality played into belief, there would be words for it.  Instead, it's culture, indoctrination, and neurobiology that makes a believer a believer.

I could have gone on and on... like, if God doesn't want us to be slaves why does he "reward" us for our good behavior by forcing us to sing his praises in Heaven for eternity?   Sounds like slavery to me.  Remember, there's no money in Heaven.  No OSHA either. 

The "argument" above about original sin sounds lovely. Poetic, even.  Almost like... what are those called?  Those stories with a moral to them but no actual basis in fact?  It's on the tip of my tongue...




Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess said...

Okay, Lady Believer here, the subject of Lady Atheist's post.
I did tell my friend the other day that my mind was too consumed with trying to find homes for five stray cats on my street to go beyond my emotional reasons for believing in God. However, I also subscribe to something my dear mother used to say--"To those who believe, no explanation is necessary. To those who don't, no explanation is possible." I try not to engage in debate with people whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to mine. I don't think that means I'm stupid; it just really doesn't change anyone's mind or get anyone anywhere. I also try to live by a profound saying of an Orthodox steret (teacher): "Do not react. Do no resent. Keep inner stillness." Rather than fight about God's existence, I spend my energy trying to live a life of love that reflects His love to others. I'm sure that may sound silly to you readers, but it's how I roll....

Matters of the intellect are very important to my friend Lady Atheist (which doesn't mean she doesn't also have a huge heart, or she wouldn't be caring for sweet dogs with special needs!). However, I will tell you that the most intelligent people in the world realize that they don't know and can't know everything. It just seems to me that some atheists have the answer to everything, but the mysteries of the universe simply can't all be understood. And belief in God, for some people, fills the void that cannot be rationally filled.

Consider this: "Einstein did not believe in a personal God. It is however, interesting how he arrived at that conclusion. In developing the theory of relativity, Einstein realized that the equations led to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. Einstein became a deist - a believer in an impersonal creator God: 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.'

However, it would also seem that Einstein was not an atheist, since he also complained about being put into that camp:

'In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.'

'I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.'

It has also been my experience that people stop believing in God because they're angry or disappointed at Him, not for any particular intellectual reason.

But words still fail me when it comes to my own belief in and love for a personal God. When I said my belief is too deep in my heart to put into words, that's true. I love my husband, and when someone asks why, I say the same thing. I love him for who he is, and putting it into words somehow diminishes that love. Perhaps that's still a flimsy answer for some, but it's MY answer.

I KNOW what I know--I'm very intuitive--and I would often answer the questions many different teachers and professors would ask the same way. "I know why--right now, I just can't give you all the reasons why." (Drove my instructors crazy!)

You may read this long response and still think I believe in fairy tales or that my neurobiology is all messed up. That's okay. I know what I know....

Blessings, everyone.

Robert the Skeptic said...

@Jerylin - Very thoughtful and well written comment. If I may just respond to a couple of your thoughts.

I never have experienced people becoming atheists because they are angry or disappointed or feel let down or betrayed by god. It is instead a slow process over time where our experiences just show us that there is no god there.

Invoking Einstein as a deist is fine, it doesn't change the facts. Einstein, a brilliant man, was in conflict and had difficulties in accepting some of the newer theories of physics that came after him. He was wrong about some things; it doesn't mean he wasn't very intelligent. But his views on whether there is a god is not relevant.

Einstein could not envision the universe beginning before the Big Bang. But in recent decades we have a deeper understanding of the conditions prior to the Big Bang. Stephen Hawkings has written about this quite recently and categorically states that god is not necessary for having brought the universe as we know it into existence.

Yes, science does not have all the answers and likely we will continue to have questions. Because we don't know the answer to a question does not mean we can substitute god as the answer. Or as someone else put it, lack of knowledge is not knowledge of god.

There is a lot of comfort and security that comes from belief. Atheists give all that up when they give up their belief; non-belief is not easy and often not comforting. But many of us would rather accept harsh reality than a comfortable lie.

As one of my dear Christian friends once said to me: "The more you think about it, the harder it is to believe". I agree with her completely.

Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess said...

Hello, Robert! Thank you for YOUR very thoughtful, well-written, and respectful comments! I usually try to reflect for a day or two on profound things, so if Lady Atheist doesn't mind, I hope to respond later on what you wrote.

Blessings to you!

Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess said...

Robert, I just wanted to follow up on my statement that some people I've known stopped believing in God for reasons of the heart. I used to work with a lot of social workers who "lost their faith" in their line of work. They had seen too many children who had been horribly abused. I would often tell them that GOD didn't abuse these little ones--HUMANS did--but I cannot force my faith on anyone, just as I'm sure I really can't change anyone's mind here.

Also, I know of at least one public figure, Ted Turner, who stopped believing after begging God to save his young sister who was critically ill with leukemia (I think that was the illness). She died, and he was devastated not only by her death but by what he perceived was an uncaring God.

But then this brings up another topic, one that philosophers and saints can't often do justice to, much less myself: Why does a God of love permit suffering? I have my own humble beliefs on this, but for now, I just want to follow up on what I said before.