Sunday, April 6, 2014

Original Sin: Affected but Not Guilty?

I remember when I was a freshman in college, my roommate asked me why we should all be held guilty for the original sin that Adam and Eve committed. I couldn't give him a good answer because I didn't know. All I could say was that we are affected by that sin but not guilty for it, but I couldn't explain how that works. It seemed (and seems) like we are being punished by God for something we didn't do. The Church holds that newly-born humans are born into Original Sin; hence the necessity of infant Baptism, which removes the stain of that sin and allows the child, if it were to die, to enter heaven.

But when the Church says that we are born into Original Sin, people tend to think this somehow means we are born into a state where we're just like Adam and Eve—having taken the forbidden fruit ourselves. But this isn't exactly what is meant. There are two aspects to the Original Sin: 1) the original, physical, historical act of the will by which Adam and Eve in pride disobeyed God's command not to eat of the forbidden fruit; and 2) the RESULT of that act. We are born into the RESULT of that first act. The Church has also dogmatically taught that Original Sin is transmitted through generation (i.e. biological conception and succession). This suggests that if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned, their children would be born in a state of grace.

But if we didn't commit the original act, why are we punished for it? After thinking about it for a long time, an analogy has helped me to understand it better. It begins by asking, "Have you ever done something that affected other people negatively?" And the answer is of course. All of us have done actions that had either intentional or unintended consequences on others. A classmate's brother died along with about 7 other people because they died in a vehicle accident while someone was driving drunk. Were all 7 people guilty of drunk driving? No, but they suffered the consequences of it.

Were the victims of 9/11 guilty of the terrorists' acts of destruction? No, but they suffered the consequences of those acts.

Does a child who is born with genetic and physical deformities because of his mother's drinking and smoking while the child was forming in the womb bear the responsibility of his mother's addiction? No, but he suffers the consequences of it.

Did the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II declare war on the Americans and agree with the bombings at Pearl Harbor? No, but they suffered the consequences of America's paranoia.

The examples can be multiplied.

Adam and Eve committed an act that has repercussions on the entire human race. The primary effects of that act are: 1) the stain of that Original Sin on our souls; 2) the spiritual darkness of ignorance and disordered desire.

Adam and Eve declared on behalf of the human race by their irresponsibility that Man shall be cut off from God. God has offered us a way to come back to Him that respects our freedom and individuality: either through following our conscience with good will; or 2) through Baptism and appropriating faith ourselves as individuals (1 and 2 are not necessarily at odds with each other, but they are distinct ways of coming to God that the Church has upheld).

Hence even though we are not responsible for the original act committed by Adam and Eve, we are responsible for what we choose to do now that we suffer the consequences.

This is like a victim who either remains in a state of victimization or chooses to overcome that pain by facing it and taking responsibility for his life. God gives us grace to take responsibility for our lives and our pain even if we as individuals didn't cause it to be there in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.