Following up from my last post about Original Sins, the beginning of the Original Sins is when the humans decide that they want to decide what is right and what is wrong for themselves. They don’t want God deciding it for them.
The first consequence for the humans is the loss of innocence. By this I don’t mean the loss of some state of spiritual perfection, but rather the loss of the blissful naiveté a person has when they don’t have to live out in the real world but live under the protection and benevolence of their parents or some other authority that has been providing for them and guarding them from the harsh realities of the world “out there.” They had it good, but wanted more, and with the privileges of having more come the responsibilities.
So the beginning of the Original Sins is when we want to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Now watch what happens next in the Genesis narrative. When God finds The Man and The Woman hiding their nakedness from him and from each other, God knows what they have done. “You’re naked? Who told you you were naked? What made you aware of it? Did you eat of the tree that I gave you explicit instructions to leave alone and not eat from?”
Nailed. Now, the smart thing, the mature thing to do at this point is to just admit that they screwed up and face the consequences, but not only are the Man and the Woman not ready to handle deciding what is right and what is wrong, they aren’t ready to take responsibility for the consequences. That’s the thing about that decision. One might argue that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with deciding what is right and what is wrong as long as you are willing to admit when you mess up. The fact is that human history has proven that we are pretty bad at deciding what is right and wrong, and that it’s better left to someone wiser, someone who has a broader view of things than we have access to.
But watch what happens. The Man doesn’t take responsibility, but instead deflects blame to the Woman. “This Woman, the one you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit.” There’s a not-so-subtle dig at God as being at least partially responsible, but note what has already happened in the relationship between the Man and the Woman. The Woman has become “The Woman you gave to be with me,” which is a far cry from “Now, at last! She is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” An exclamation of oneness has turned into “You’re the one who gave her to me; I didn’t ask for her.”
I may have done something wrong, but it’s not my fault. It’s her fault. And you’ve got to take some responsibility here as well. The Man has moved from wanting to decide what is right and wrong to deciding who is right and wrong.
The Woman is no better. “The serpent tricked me.” I might have done something wrong, but it’s not my fault. It’s the serpent’s fault. One wonders if even here there is an implicit dig at the Creator; after all, who made the serpent and put him in the Garden? Who made him the craftiest of all creatures?
This, too, is an archetypal story, one which portrays a pattern which all humans follow. Not only are we very poor judges of what is right and what is wrong, we are most often too immature to claim responsibility, trying to shift blame to someone else. In the process, we de-humanize them. We make them less than what they are. They cease to be, at least in that moment when we are scapegoating them, children of God, created in his image and likeness; they are no longer bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. They become an intrusion into our happiness, a disruption of our paradise, an encroachment to our tranquility.
Instead of being an inseparable part of an “us”, they become—well, they become a “they.” An other.
What is archetypal here is not just the behavior, but also the downward regression of the behavior. It’s a small step from thinking you are capable of deciding what is right and what is wrong to thinking you are capable of deciding who is right and who is wrong. It’s actually a very natural step, but it is a very dangerous step because when we take it people cease to be people and they become things. A person who commits adultery is not just a person who commits adultery, they are an adulterer. A person who commits murder is no longer a person who commits murder, they are a murderer. A person who steals is no longer a person, they are a thief. That’s what they are. We define them by that thing that they are. And when we define them by a thing, they themselves become a thing.
So ultimately this downward regression is not just a regression of behavior, though it certainly is that. And it is not just a regression of relationship, though that is certainly evident as well. Ultimately it’s a regression of personhood. We begin to treat the other as something less than a human created in God’s image and worthy of his love, affection, and continued good graces. They become something worthy of blame. They become a label, a thing, an object separate from us.
And when we do that, it’s actually our personhood that regresses. We become less than human; we become less than what God created us to be.
That’s bad enough, but the descent of Original Sins continues.