Sunday, June 16, 2013

Out of Eden

Whenever the subject of the moral significance of Eden pops up, I am drawn to a poem by James Joyce that, in part, says
    Of the dark past
    A child is born;
    With joy and grief
    My heart is torn.
Isn’t that the truth of all births? We don’t begin as blank slates, “innocent” as popular lore has it. Babies are profoundly selfish, by necessity some would argue—but there you have it.

The second part of the creation story in Genesis attempts to explain why things around us are a moral mess, especially given that when all was created “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10).

The problem of evil haunts all faith. How can there be X evil if there is a good God? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God demands of Job in response (Job 38:4).

St. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo, North Africa, and the first major Christian philosopher, described our personal problem of evil with the word “concupiscence,” from the Latin for “with desire.” This is what came to be known by the hoary traditional term of “original sin” (please check out a humorous take in Tom Lehrer’s song “Vatican Rag”).

The idea is really roughly similar to the view of Siddartha Gautama, known as the Buddha (ca. fourth century BCE) concerning life and enlightenment. Put simply, in the earthly life we know we are caught in Samsara, a perpetual and cyclical wandering that, in the Hinduist roots of Buddhism, goes through death and rebirth. We are trapped in this cycle because of desire. Bingo! Concupiscence!

Although neither the kin religions of Islam and Judaism have a teaching of original sin, both share with the Christian faith the notion of a human status quo ante, before evil, in the story of Eden. Hinduism has a more complicated, more spiritual, version.

The point, alluded to by St. Ireneaus (130-202), bishop of Lyons, in disputes concerning this teaching, is pretty much what the Joyce poem puts forth: we start out with ancestral or inherited wrongs.

Some of us are born in mansions, built and maintained by the accumulated sweat and suffering of others, transmuted into profits and money. Some of us are born in hovels, like Jesus, without a sou to our name. Some are born from married ladies who primp for church every Sunday, others fight our way out of drug-addicted whores in alleyways.

This is not the divine order: this is the human injustice and error we have wrought by deceiving ourselves into thinking we are moral arbiters as powerful as the Creator.

4 comments:

  1. If your God is so perfect, he would have created perfect people without the concupiscence inside them. Or he would know by advance, since he is omniscient, that the humans would use their "freedom" to sin with concupiscence. OK that was the mean for him to create a Jesus who would come to save humanity.

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    1. The Christian faith does not mean claiming to know the mind of God, nor resolving the problem of evil. You think you might create better human beings, yet I wonder whether this is true. Could you create, out of nothing, even one human being?

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  2. I am not a god and I never claimed that I could create whatever,
    he claimed to be a god and do a perfect job.("et il vit que cela était
    bon") That's untrue. He created the evil since he created the world

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    1. A few points here.

      First, since you are not a god, how do you know what a perfect job as a god is? Did you attend god school and learn what a god should do?

      Second, God "saw that it was good" is a statement about the inherent goodness of all creatures, including you. Or are you inherently evil, undeserving and worthless?

      Third, saying that God created evil (and presumably Satan) makes God a little schizophrenic, in which case God is not the perfect supreme being. If God is not, who is?

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What sayest thou?