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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The original original sin

Three threats to the future of our society seem more and more real to me.

          1. The proliferation of nuclear material around the world makes it more and more likely that at some point someone will use that material to destroy a city such as Washington, D.C., or some other essential nerve center of our society.

          2. The invention of “crispr,” a tool for genetically modifying almost anything, makes it more and more likely that someone will meddle with genetics enough to create an organism that will create a pandemic (an epidemic that would kill millions of people similar to the way the Black Death devastated Europe in the middle 1300s.). The most recent issue of Time magazine warns about the danger of a naturally occurring pandemic.

          3. Global warming is likely to create political instability in places where millions of people will lose their homes, so that more huge waves of refugees will overwhelm countries. Our country will not be immune to the effects of such disruptions.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were not committing a sin of disobedience. The story is about how humans have a drive to try new things, and that some new things can have bad consequences, such as driving people out of paradise. God was not testing Adam and Eve, God was preparing us for God’s entry into the human race as a human being, because God is a God of love, not a God of capricious testing.

Evolution is a violent process, with a timespan of billions of years. If we believe that a personal God is behind creation of the universe, we Christians also believe that the God of Creation is also a God of redemption, a God who brings life and love out of violence and disruption. Love is passionate, respectful, vulnerable, faithful involvement. God is involved with us passionately, respectfully, vulnerably, and faithfully. Love is stronger than death.

The history of Christian theology has been based too much on reading Scriptures as accounts of historical events. But Scripture is first of all literature, artistic statements of the experiences of its authors. I can accept that God inspired its authors without assuming that what they wrote was intended as historical description. As I read Augustine’s City of God, I am struck by how much he takes Scripture passages as literal descriptions of historical events. I have the same reaction when I read Thomas Aquinas or Duns Scotus, medieval theologians with the same assumption.

Philosophy in our day has moved toward analyzing language, the way human beings use that most amazing facility. As I have reflected in earlier statements on this blog, when Jesus says that if your eye causes you to sin, you should pluck it out, we take the statement as metaphorical. Why do we take literally the statement that the King in Matthew 25 condemns the goats on his left to eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels? I cannot reconcile the belief that God is a God of love with the belief that such a God would condemn a person to eternal punishment for a non-eternal action. “Hell” is a metaphor for Jesus’ telling us that love is serious business, and that the failure to love can have long-lasting consequences. How long-lasting? Jesus uses the word “eternal,” but why is that word not a metaphor?

The Christian (and Muslim) teaching about hell is one of the most serious obstacles to a wider acceptance of faith by people in our world.

The Christian teaching about original sin is a similar obstacle. It makes God seem capricious and punitive. We have a better God than that.

Terrible things may be in store for the human race as a result of the three developments that I described at the beginning of this essay. If such events occur, they will not be because Adam and Eve disobeyed a command of God. They will occur because God created humans to push limits, and knew that sometimes when they push limits, they get hurt, and sometimes the hurt extends down to those humans’ descendants. The story does not end there because God also became incarnate among us, and is with us even in catastrophe and death, and is always bringing new life out of the violence and destruction of creation.