The descent of Original Sins begins with the desire to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We want to decide this not only for ourselves, but for everyone around us as well. Once we do this, it is a very easy and natural step to begin deciding who is right and who is wrong. Those we decide are wrong become “they’s, while those who we decide are right become “us’s” It’s always interesting to me that in any definition of they’s and us’s, insiders and outsiders, those who are acceptable and those who aren’t, we always place ourselves in the circle of us’s, insiders, and acceptables. I don’t think I have ever come across a person who is a strong believer in predestination—the belief that God has elected some for salvation and some for damnation—who didn’t believe that they were part of the elect. Whenever Gallup does a poll of religious beliefs, of those who believe in a literal hell, none believe they are going there. Hell is for other people. Hell is for the they’s. Us’s are safe.
To understand the next episode in the Genesis narrative of the Original Sins, we must first understand an important condition in the Creation narrative. In Genesis 1 God tells the humans that he has provided plants and fruit trees to be their food. But this is true not only for humans, but for all the animals as well. “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." (Gen. 1:30 NRSV) So there were no carnivores or even omnivores, every human and animal was vegetarian. (I’d like to see a lion eating a salad, wouldn’t you?”) Now this isn’t a statement about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, nor is it a statement about the morality of eating meat. I am a meat-eater and don’t consider it a matter of morality or a consequence of my sin nature. The point is this: when God created the world, violence was not a part of it. There was no killing of animal life. Contrast this with the creation narratives of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures of the day, such as the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish, in which the world was created in a frenzy of violence between the gods. Enuma Elish says that the essence of the world is violence, that by its very nature creation is violent. In the biblical account, the world is created in peace, order being formed out of chaos, and violence is not a part of it.
There is no violence.
The next story in the downward spiral of Original Sin is Cain and Abel. Both men offer sacrifices to God; Cain, being a farmer, offers a grain offering. Abel, being a shepherd, offers the firstlings of his flock. (You may be wondering if there is no killing of animals for food, why Abel is allowed to kill lambs, or why he is herding sheep in the first place. The short and easy answer is that this killing is a ritual killing for worship, not for food, and therefore doesn’t fall under the classification of a violent killing. The long and complicated answer is…long and more complicated than that, having to do with the text history of source documents, and…you’re already bored, aren’t you? And that’s at least part of my point.)
We are told that God had regard for Abel and his offering, but not for Cain and his. We aren’t told why God regarded one and not the other, and we can only assume that since the reasoning was omitted that it’s not important. Could simply be God had a hankering for lamb rather than cereal that day. What’s important is Cain’s reaction. He gets really mad, which isn’t a problem, just the potential of a problem. And God warns him: sin is crouching at the door; you must master it.
But Cain doesn’t master it; he lets his anger master him, and he murders his brother. Now violence has been introduced into God’s creation. One human killing another. A brother killing a brother. This is new. This is horrible. This has ramifications for all of human history. Remember, this is an archetypal story—a pattern that sweeps all humans up, either as perpetrators, co-conspirators, complicit observers, blissful ignorers, or victims.
First, we decide that no one else can decide for us what is right and what is wrong—we’ll decide that for ourselves.
Then, having decided what is right and what is wrong, we move to deciding who is right and who is wrong, dehumanizing and objectifying those we decide are wrong.
Next, having decided who is right and who is wrong, it’s a short step down to deciding who deserves to live and who deserves to die.
Once a person decides that abortion is wrong, for instance—a perfectly reasonable position—it then become easy to decide that a person who performs abortions is not a person who performs abortions, but an abortionist. A thing. A thing that must be eliminated. A thing that must be shot down, blown up, exterminated. Sure, only fanatics do that, but when we allow a person to be called a thing, when we ourselves call them a thing-name, we create an environment where fanatics do fanatical things.
Bad example? OK. How about terrorist? That’s a good thing-name that leads to more violence. The only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. How about Jew? That was a good thing-name that throughout history, and not just in Nazi Germany, led to violence.
This thing, this violence, this killing of humans by humans, God’s children committing violence against God’s children—this is the Original Sin. This is the one that has ruined God’s creation, destroyed families, destroyed even entire civilizations.
But we’re only in chapter 4 in the narrative of the Original Sins. There are 7 more chapters to go. Because it gets worse. That’s the nature of violence: it always gets worse. It always drags us down. It always breeds more violence. And we don’t know how to stop it.