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Original Candy

January 22nd, 2008

One of the problems with some of the flavors of Christianity is that, to a thinking person, they include rather clear absurdities that make it difficult to accept the religion as a whole. I remember one of these being pitched to me by a coworker at a job I had while in college (the same fundamentalist coworker who so easily “disproved” evolution). She explained to me that I was in debt to Jesus Christ. How come, I asked; she answered, because he died for my sins. When I asked how he could die for my sins thousands of years before I was born, and more to the point, asked the theoretical question, what if I had no sins, she explained about the concept of original sin.

Original sin has always seemed to me to be a coercive element of Christianity. The idea is that we are born with sin, and that is used to put us in instant debt with the church. No matter who you are, you are born with sin because, according to Christian mythology, Adam and Eve took a bite from an apple from the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden, and that is added to a ledger of your own sins when you are born. Having sin, you must go to the church for redemption or else burn in hell. The idea here is that you owe the church, the religion; you must ask for forgiveness, you must repent, and receive the blessings of eternal life. Thus there is a built-in debt and feeling of obligation, even ownership by the church, in a sense.

And for what? The tale of Adam and Eve, when looked at critically, is rather absurd. God supposedly creates two innocent beings without the ability to distinguish right from wrong. More than anything else, he wants to deny them knowledge (why?), and keep them in eternal ignorance. But then he puts the source of this forbidden knowledge in the center of their abode, and further stacks the deck by making this knowledge accessible as a sweet and tempting fruit. Then he puts, or allows to exist, a serpent in the garden, in the tree itself, which will wheedle and tempt the innocents to eat the fruit of the tree. Then he goes off and disappears for a while. Talk about stacking the deck!

Translate the situation into something more relative to our experience. A parent doesn’t want a child to read. They command the child never to touch a book. But then they dress up a book in chocolate bars, leave it out in the middle of the child’s playroom. Then the parent brings into the room a stranger who will spend his time trying to get the child to eat the chocolate. The parent then leaves the house, and later returns to find that the child actually ate the chocolate!!! Well, of course the child ate the chocolate.

This is an ultimate sin that places the entire human race in peril from birth? It strikes me as not just a manufactured mechanism of debt, but a rather poorly manufactured one at that. In setting up the situation with the chocolate book, either the parent was stupid to an extreme extent, or they were trying to engineer a situation where the child would disobey and thus deserve punishment. This story makes the parent either an idiot or a sadistic schemer. And then there is a paradox: if the children are innocent and have no knowledge of what is right or wrong, then how can they be blamed for breaking the rules? They were innocent, they didn’t know.

I can understand the story from a point of allegory, a way of explaining human consciousness, our awareness relative to animals in retrospect. Someone must have asked, why are we different from the animals? Why do we have speech, knowledge, certain awarenesses, moral structures, and they do not? OK, someone answered, here’s a story telling why. But in the story are themes of growth and sacrifice. In attaining more knowledge, we pay a price for that awareness; we know moral bounds, and cannot simply do what we like for we know the consequences this may have in harming others. There is even recognition that the increased brain mass that facilitates greater knowledge will cause a mother pain in childbirth. If one does not accept the story as actually having happened, but instead sees it as a vehicle of explaining certain differences and developments in humans relative to other creatures, the story holds more meaning.

But, as a literal story, as many Christians see it, it comes across as nonsense. Even if you accept the idea that god wanted his children to be eternally innocent and free from worries and responsibilities, why would god then set up the situation so that it was virtually certain that his children would disobey him and thus lose their innocence? Not to mention that if god is omniscient as many Christians say, and knows everyone’s fate before they are even born, they how come god was surprised when Adam and Eve did what they did?

I know there are rationalizations. I’m just saying that trying to rationalize all of that stuff in a literalist interpretation is absurd to anyone who bothers to sit down and think critically. Unless I’m missing something, and someone would like to discuss the point in comments.

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  1. Tim Kane
    January 23rd, 2008 at 12:35 | #1

    This is a fascinating subject. I’ve had discussions with friends about all of this. Obviously religions are designed, and often quite effective, at helping us cope with the human condition.

    My current position is God, if he made himself human, didn’t die for our sins, or for something we did. He died for something he did.

    Specifically the creation of suffering.

    You can’t invent creation, then imbue it with suffering, and then subject your creatures to it and still consider yourself a good god.

    It all comes down to the question: Why is there something instead of nothing.

    The answer in short is, something is better than nothing.

    Perhaps its best to consider creation from God’s perspective, not our own.

    If you assume that god exists, and and you assume that that god’s nature is infinite. What is his condition? He knows everything, and he is everything. There’s nothing new, there’s no thought or perspective other than his own.

    In short, prior to creation, God is bored and lonely.

    What does he do? If we except christological assumptions, he divides himself into three persons. But that’s not enough because he’s still all knowing and all being. So then he creates Angels. But they’ve got eyes and first hand knowledge of god, and once you know God and you realize he’s all knowing and all being you can’t disagree with him.

    So he’s still face with the problem of boredom and loneliness. So what does he do? He creates creation.

    He carves out a realm, like we would put a fish tank in our home, where direct knowledge of him is impossible. Then he allows for suffering so that decisions have consequences.

    Then, in regard to humans, and perhaps wales and dolphins, he gives us intellegence. Some scientist say that the human mind is the universes greatest most complex creation. Perhaps. So there we are. We have free will and intelligence, but it is finite and we are cut off from the infinite and we are subject to suffering.

    And that’s our ‘original sin’. We aren’t perfect. We have finite minds and limited means. That means we are prone to making mistakes, and when we do, we suffer. Mistakes aren’t sins, but they can be just as bad. We are subject to suffering and we are cut off from access to things infinite.

    These conditions allow us and all creatures, to come up with something new, something original, something other than from the mind of God. Creation, through intellegent creatures, is able to solve the loneliness and boredom problem for god.

    But if you are god, would you really want to be a bad god?

    I think not.

    You would want to be a good god.

    How can a god who created creation and injected it with suffering be a good god?

    Suffering is sucks. Big time. An infinite mind would have to know that.

    So god is a good god because he created, but then he’s a bad god because he created subjected creatures to suffering. That leaves god a masochistic.

    If you are that god, how can you be a good god after having created creation with suffering?


    The answer would be to put yourself through it.

    You see, if god became man and died, the reason he did it wasn’t because of something we did, its because of something he did. And that something is probably the creation of suffering.

    As far as the garden of Eden story, it reminds me of something I read about in Bush’s on the Couch. Humans leave the womb, and come into the real world is analogous to to leaving eden. The loss of the paradise of the womb leads us to think that that event occurred because of something we did wrong. That psychology then dominates our thinking. I found that psychological theory to be analogous to the creation story in the bible.

    Finally I have one friend who believes that God is an infant being raised by us. In the early bible, if you read how god reacts to things, with anger, fire and brim stone, the great flood etc… it’s like he’s suffering through his terrible twos. He then grows up to be more magnanimous, until in his late or post adolescence, instead of throwing fire and brimstone on us, he’s forgiving us of our sins.

    Great stuff to ponder.

  2. January 23rd, 2008 at 13:11 | #2

    One big problem with Tim’s reasoning for why God had to die on the cross (assuming we accept that as what happened when they nailed Jesus up there) is the question of WHO it is that decides that God needs to be punished for creating suffering. I mean, who’s bigger and badder than God and rewards or punishes Him based on what He’s done?

    In Buddhism, there really isn’t even a concept of “sin” that has to be paid back. There’s just actions and reactions. Some are “good” (like helping someone pick up papers they drop in an office- it makes them feel good and happy that you helped) and some are “bad” (like punching people in the face at random on the subway).

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try and make amends for things in the past- but from a Buddhist point of view, it’s not that you’re somehow undoing what has already happened. By making amends, apologizing, trying to “set things right” what you’re really doing is creating new causes for the future effects that you’d prefer to experience.

    The whole “original sin” concept never made a lot of sense to me, either. It always felt like I was being held responsible for something that someone else did- which strikes nearly anyone as being incredibly capricious and unjust.

    A slightly different take to this is that “original sin” of Adam and Eve isn’t directly applied to all subsequent humans when they’re born; instead, humans are just plain sinners by nature from the get-go. It’s not so much that we are all “guilty” of the original sin as it is that we are all just flat-out bad… or that by committing the original sin, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world and made it an environment such that no matter what we tried to do or how we try to live, we’re going to sin.

    Talk about a stacked deck!

    Antoher thing that didn’t make a lot of sense to me when I was still “practicing” as a Christian is that even if we reject the notion of original sin, how it is that I’m supposed to feel really gulity that Jesus died on the cross for me. It’s a total gulit trip and very passive-aggressive; I’m a sinner, but a couple thousand years ago He went through the whole process so I could be saved.

    Well, I appreciate that, but if God is really omniscient and omnipotent, wouldn’t it have been a lot easier to have set up the whole game in such a way that we didn’t have to go through the mess? And likewise, is it really fair to lay a guilt trip on everyone for Jesus dying when they didn’t ask for it?

    Many religions have spots of illogical teaching like this, but Christianity seems to take the cake. Even Islam rejects the notion of original sin, saying that Adam and Eve later repented of their actions in the Garden (and that story, in amended form, is in the Koran) and therefore later humans are only responsible for their own sins, not the “original” sin.

    The end result of my pondering? No, Luis, I don’t think you’re missing something. It’s illogical and will wrap your brain around the axles trying to rationalize or justify it.

  3. Luis
    January 23rd, 2008 at 14:52 | #3

    Wow! Great commentary guys. I find it hard to disagree with any of that, in context. Tim’s idea of a god who has reached his limits of expansion and needs new experiences to grow creating a new universe to undergo a near-infinite variety of new and unique experiences, ideas, and perspectives–that’s almost exactly the kind of god that I would believe in were I to believe in something strongly. It makes a great deal of sense to me–not that my idea of what makes sense within my own limited context would be a sound guide for a being of the scope of such a ‘god.’ But as far as my teensy little brain can comprehend, that makes the most sense to me. Most religions with creation stories and gods with personalities come across to me as fables created in primitive times.

  4. January 23rd, 2008 at 16:26 | #4

    The Adam and Eve story appears to be a re-write of an older story about Gilgamesh and possibly was modified to incorporate the themes of man being driven from a part of Sumeria (now submerged) which was once a relative paradise for hunter-gatherer types. Rising water levels drove them from easy pickings to the toil (and uncertainty) of agrarian life in a less idealic environment. Historians consider the story to simply be an adaptation of an older story and they base this on having found what was most certainly the location of “Eden” using satellite photos of ancient river beds and the convergence of 4 rivers (as referred to in the bible) in the former Sumeria and the history and archaeological findingsof the area.

    While some Christians take the bibles stories literally, many of the more thoughtful ones regard a great deal of the bible’s content as allegories and/or parables. I believe most people regard the story of Adam and Eve as one which is supposed to convey the pain of consciousness.

    BTW, Tim’s comment about a “God” which has reached its limits is an off-shoot of most (so-called) New Age thinking. The idea is that all reality (living and not) is a fragment of an entity which tore itself apart and seeks to enrich itself through the experiences of the “pieces” (as it were). That’s an oversimplified way of stating it. This “entity” defies our ability to comprehend or verbalize it’s true nature as it is beyond our capacity to comprehend with our limited sensibilities and extremely limited perceptions of reality. Calling it “God” is a grossly inaccurate way of referring to whatever it is because we relate the concept of “God” to a single conscious entity and that is certainly not what is considered to be at work.

  5. Tim Kane
    January 24th, 2008 at 14:11 | #5

    Paul: god decides to put himself through suffering.

    Why? because first he invented it, and second he inflicted it upon helpless creatures. He may have even done this to serve his purpose, not ours.

    How can god do this and still consider himself good? So HE decides to put himself through this so that, at the very least, if we complain about the existence of suffering he could say “hey, I put myself through it. That’s how important I thought suffering is to creation.” Something along those lines.

    As stated above, the point of suffering is to give consequence to decisions. In that sense, evolution is the biggest consequence grinder.

    But the thing about the nature of our existence is that we have an independent intellegence, which outside our realm of creation, only god would seem to have. That’s the edge we would have on the angels. Unfortunately we have limited means and are subject to suffering.

    Luis: Amazing. You spun that a million miles farther on down the road than I ever could. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.


    Actually I made all that stuff up. I wrote a book “The Passion of Bubbles” about a mouse, who gets drafted into the world of mouse racing. In that world, after five losses a mouse gets sent to the reptile cage at the zoo. To avoid that fate, Bubbles takes steroids which vault him to the top of the field, he becomes a cross between Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. Eventually it catches up to him and he ends up at the reptile cage at the zoo where he’s taken by a rather small snake that struggles to swallow him. A common fictional device is to have a protagonist fall into jeopardy and he has to go back and find out what HE did wrong (and presumably fix it or fix a character flaw). However Bubbles was drafted, that is, the problem is not his fault, so to cope with his dire circumstances he has to figure everything else out beyond his own actions. And so that, after a few metaphysical discussions, is what I cooked up for him. However, the whole thing was inspired by a sermon I slept through while in grade school, during the airing of the miniseries “the holocaust”, the theme of that sermon was presumably how ‘Christ’ speaks to the holocaust.’ When I woke up from that sermon, I rather regretted sleeping through it, because the idea was most peculiar to me: what does Jesus have to say, or meant in regard to, those suffering under the holocaust? So eventually I tried to recreate the sermon when I wrote the book.

    Perhaps logic limits the plausible metaphysical schools of thought there can be out there and so I might have stumbled onto thoughts someone else had, but they came out of my head (with a few discussions with a couple of friends).

    I should say that I am a cultural catholic. I like the holidays, I like culture, its the essence of civilization. I have a psuedo-christ image of god. As Abe Lincoln said, the almighty (if there is one) has his own purposes. But religions are not made to serve the purpose of truth, they are made to serve the purpose of men. For some men that means acquisition of power. For many its the acquisition of comfort in the face of a hostile universe imbued with suffering (I believe that’s a utilitarian perspective of religion). There’s evidence to suggest that many people have lower stress and live longer lives because of the comfort provided by their religious beliefs.

    So in my mind it all really doesn’t matter beyond the comfort one might draw from religion what they believe as long as they keep it largely contained to themselves. Beyond that, organized religion is over wrought, and while it doesn’t poison everything (per Christopher Hutchin’s book “God is not great”) organize religion does spoil almost everything it comes in contact with (here I would give Christ credit, he said ‘I will be where ever 2 or 3 gather, not 20, 200, 2000, etc… – perhaps because 2-3 is a discussion and not a hierarchy requiring organization).

    The fact is we don’t really have direct evidence that there is a god, except to assume that creation occurred and someone started it (“I think therefore god is”). It seems quite obvious that if there is a god, he did not want us to have direct evidence of him – and if he is of an infinite nature then doing that was not a very easy task (how can you be ignorant of something that is infinite?). My belief is, if there is a god, he wants us to be ignorant of him so as to foster an independent entirely new, entirely unique perspective and some creatures have evolved advanced intelligence enough to achieve something like that.

    The oddity, or perhaps irony of that, is that fundamentalist Christians want to surrender their free will and intelligence in order to rely on something else, something external, like the bible. See that – god gives us powerful minds, and free will, for the purpose that we be like gods, and manifest new, independent and original thought, and fundamentalist hand it back to him to him saying they don’t want it, out of their desire to be more god like. If there is a devil or sorts opposing god’s creation then it would seem he’s a big promoter of fundementalism.

    Any way, I find this very interesting, but I realize, especially after reading Luis’ comments that I don’t have the horse power to carry this very far.

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