Thursday, June 10, 2010

Theodicy Part 2: what is the basis of sin?

 Reinhold Neibuhr

In part 1 I argued that the basis of the good was love. In part 2 I argue the basis sin must be the opposite. But the opposite of love is no hate. The emotional opposite is indifference. The moral opposes is selfishness. Love is he will to the good of the other, and so the opposite of that morally speaking would be the exclusion of the good of the other, which is say putting your own good over the other.

I concur with Reinhold Neibuhr in his Augustinian view of sin. Sin is the result of human self transcendence, it's an outcome of the basic nature of being corporeal. Through self transcendence we are able to project beyond our immediate feelings and understanding of self to remember the past, and consider the future, based upon the past. We are able to think "what will happen 20 years down the road if I can't make a living now?" This creates anxiety and to relive the anxiety we try to feather our next by getting things we need to feel secure. This also means occasionally hurting people who are in the way, taking thing from those whose goods we covet or whatever. It means we do unjust and improper things in regard to others.

In essence sin = selfish. Not just selfishness but the willingness to inflict harm upon others or to reduce the other to the level of a thing or an object or means to an end.

This is a psychological account, not moral or ontological. In traditional Christian theology sin is Beiderbecke to God. That's technically the case but since God's ultimate will for us and his basic commands all reduce to love (which Jesus said are the two points upon which hang the law and the prophets) it stands to reason that moral abrogation of love would be the opposite of love, or self over the other.

It might also be traditional for Christians to think that sin is the result of Evil and that evil is some form of evil being like satan. But Austine tells us evil actually absence of the good. The illusion is created that evil is a positive force becasue intelligent beings do evil. Evil becomes a part of a personality like air which has had its heat removes, and thus creates the illusion of radiant cold, so the personality bereft of good appears to be a positive force of evil. In The Nature and Destiny of Man Vol I Neibhur gives his account of the fall in "liberal" terms, apart from taking the myth of Gensis literal history. The Augustinian reading above is the result. This view explains the nature of "fallen" humanity without ascribing sin nature to one particular historical event. Some might raise the issue "doesn't mean that God grated us sinful?" The problem with that is idea is that it predicated upon the conditioning of traditional Christian theology as the only reading of Genesis. In her ground breaking work In The Wake of Goddesses, (Random House) Tikva Frymer-Kensky argued that the earliest forms of mythology of Genesis found at Qumran suggest that ancient Hebrews did not see the story of Eve as the origin of sin but the bringing of Civilization. It was the story of the sons of God and the daughters of men that they saw as the origin of sin in the world. Frymer Kensky was  a major scholar. She was not a Bible scholar, she was Jewish and she was a summeriologist (ancient Summer). Least the reader think she was a wild feminist urging goddess worship here's the publisher's discription of the book:

The current return to spiritual values has spawned a surge of interest in the ancient goddess-based religions as a remedy to a long tradition of misogyny in the Western religions.

But how accurate are these current representations of the goddess in polytheism? And did Judeo-Christian religion really turn its back on women? These are some of the questions that scholar and feminist Tivka Frymer-Kensky sets out to answer in this iconoclastic study of gender in religions past and present. Her argument, illustrated with fascinating accounts of myth and ritual dating back to the early days of Sumer, Assyria, and Greece, is that although polytheism did accord females an important role, the strict division between male and female actually served to keep women in a subordinate position. The goddesses were progressively "ghettoized": their sphere was eventually relegated to home and hearth, while male gods took over as patrons of wisdom and learning. This dualism was displaced by the Bible, which embraced a surprisingly egalitarian view of human nature in which women were not considered to be inherently inferior.

The story of Adam and Eve is a re-working of the ancient myth from pre Hebrew cultures such as Summer and Babylon. So it's a mythological account. Not a lie, but not a literal historical even either. It's a fictional story that speaks of a truth and tells that truth in a symbology that speaks to the subconscious. It's a type of symbolism, its a use of symbols in a certain way to relate a truth we can't readily grasp consciously. The story is about disobedience, passing the buck, pretense of an innocence that wont take responsibility for it's own guilt. That's the meaning of the story but the key is Eve saw that the fruit would make her wise, that is, it would secure her future, it would give her the ability to understand and cope with anything to gain above and beyond what she had. So she was putting her good God's plan and will.

Thus sin nurture is the capacity to sin, the sense of anxiety and the result it leads to in doing unjust things to secure our own future as a result of that anxiety. Sin nature is not surplus guilt and it's not legal or moral guilt. We are not born guilty we are merely born with the capacity to sin. Thus God did not create humanity guilty he created us self transcendent as a natural requirement of being a sentient life form. That gives us an innate tendency to sin but we have the will the avoid it if we choose. The issue of "this is beyond our capacity to endure" is skirting the Pelagian Heresy - (AD 418).. I am not a Pelagian, I do not believe that we can just resist sin of our own power if we try to under our own goodness. But I don't believe God created us sinful or guilty. God provides the out, we could chose to resist sin though God's power at any time but part of us doesn't want to. We have to struggle with the tension between the anxiety that drives sin vs. the trust and faith that it takes to resist it. Understanding this and working through the struggle in faith is the hard of part of faith, that struggle is what faith is all about.

In the eternal scheme of values that God wishes us to internalize, the values of "the good," we use temporal things we love eternal things. We see eternal things as ends in themselves. Human beings are eternal things, thus we see them as ends in themselves not as means to our own ends. When selfishness drives us to consider the other as a means to our end only then then we are sinning. This is why the values of the good must be internalized. If God made his reality obvious we would all feel we had to comply with God's will, we would all resent it. We do resent being made to feel we have no option but to obey the will of another. Unless we share the values of love, service, selflessness, giving, caring, faith in God, trust in God, and being Holy then we will resent. This is why internalizing these values is paramount, and the only way to do that is to understand the importance of it to such an extent that we are willing to seek them out and find the ultimate answer not matter what. This is the basis of the search for God. God designed into our species the basic need to search for truth of his reality becuase that's the best way to get us to internalize the values of the good.

Kristen who often posts comments on this blog had a good observation on the message board version of this post.

This is interesting. It sounds like sin is not just about self, but about fear. I'm reminded of the Scripture, "There is no fear in love, because fear has torment, but perfect love drives out fear." The opposite of fear is trust, or faith. Faith mixed with love drives out fear.

Most fundamentalist versions of religion have fear as their driving factor, rather than love and trust/faith. The thinking is formulaic-- "if I follow these exact practices, I can control the outcome. God will jump through my hoops and I need not fear the future or be uncertain about anything." But if fear is the motive behind sin-- well. You end up with a charade of what religion is supposed to be about, which is trust and surrender to God in love.

I think that's an excellent observation. The children of Israel came to Mount Sinai and  they saw the storm and heard the peels of thunder, they knew God was there. They were afraid and they said "let Moses go out there and represent us," the legalist, the one under the laws, wants to place himself under the authority of another becuase that other will take the wrap the other will take the heat and the legalist can say "I was only following orders." I think that is the basis of legalism, fear which can't stand before God honestly but must hind behind he authority of another. Fear itself is not a sin, but it is prelude to sin if we don't react in trust.So it's acting not in trust of God that is the sin.

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