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Original Sin

Updated on December 6, 2007

Today we make mistakes, have addictions, get in with the wrong crowd, but we no longer call it sin. There are many fairly obvious reasons for this "death of sin." Modern culture stresses individual "rights" to the detriment of responsibilities; science has demonstrated that we are so socially and genetically determined that the scope of our liberty is much narrower than we had imagined. There is also a reaction against a certain representation of God as a stern and exacting judge, as a celestial bookkeeper who expects that we conform exactly to a certain moral code--or else! This has given way to the concept of a merciful God who "understands" us and sees our good intentions, however frustrated they often are.

But if we don't sin anymore, others certainly do! This is obviously true on a personal level, but even more so on a national level where we see ourselves as champions of liberty and human dignity entrusted by God to eradicate evil from this world, something God didn't succeed in doing. There is a profound analysis of the process by which we rid ourselves of our darkest inclinations by projecting them on others and combating them there. It is as if we compensate for minimizing our own sins by exaggerating the faults of others.

There are those who have looked this in the face and proclaimed it to be the "truth" of mankind, who have embraced it and asserted it. (I'm thinking here of Nietzsche, Sartre, Hemingway, early Luis Bunuel and Ingmar Bergman. Nietzsche's answer to nihilism was that man creates his own truth in an absolute freedom. To do so he must be free from God.) This, too, is part of our culture and is not without a certain courage and honesty.

Sin remains a mystery hidden in the complexity of the human heart. But if we are tending toward a more diffused concept of particular sins, this could also be the occasion of a more acute awareness of sinfulness--of individual and collective sinfulness. Our best efforts are soiled and inadequate and, perhaps, our worst mistakes are rooted in bad judgment and stupidity rather than malice, but beneath all that is our basic depravity and our complicity with it that seeps into all we do and vitiates it to a greater or lesser extent. The Eastern Church speaks of "the ancestral curse" rather than original sin; these are the seeds of physical and moral corruption that have been handed down to us and that we, in turn, will pass on.

To pretend that another's sin belongs only to that other and that I am not responsible for it is in itself a sin. If, in truth, we bear the burdens of one another, we have much to be ashamed of, but it is only by assuming responsibility for the sins of all, with its humiliation and shame, that we can contribute to the collective pardon.

For the corollary of this solidarity in sin is solidarity in pardon. When forgiveness is accepted by one, mercy is extended to all--and mercy upon mercy. Pardon is never a strictly individual affair. It is a participation in the Great Mercy that embraces all of humanity. By becoming greatly pardoned, we shall obtain yet greater mercy--and not just for ourselves but for all. In St. John's account of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus challenges those who were without sin to cast the first stone. No one does, nor does Jesus, for he has assumed the sin of the adulteress. Her sin has become his and is consumed. Although we cannot fully assume the burdens of others--even of one other--because of our own burden of sin, we can still participate in the pardon offered to all in the measure of our compassion. This is the opposite movement from the shifting of evil to others to exonerate our own depravity.


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    • ratnaveera profile image

      ratnaveera 10 years ago from Cumbum

      Thank you for sharing godily thoughts and woderful painting.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      None of us is perfect. All we can do is strive to be our best, to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    • profile image

      ink 10 years ago

      Interesting thoughts.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 10 years ago from France

      Very interesting argument.

      Loved the painting!

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney