Original Sin

Lots of us have trouble with the concept of original sin; including the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand.” Paragraph 404.

After all, it doesn’t seem fair—that one person should suffer for the sins of another.

Indeed, it is not fair; but it is the essence of the Christian message. Jesus died for our sins.

And it is obviously, objectively true. We all benefit and suffer from the actions of others: our ancestors, our countrymen, most obviously, our parents. Some of us were lucky enough to be born in a rich family, some in a poor one. That has given us a better shot. We had nothing to do with that, and it is not fair. Some of us have had abusive parents, and some of us have had parents who coddled or spoiled us. That is not fair. Some of us were born in Canada, and some of us in Ukraine. We had nothing to do with it.

All of us trace our lineage back to Adam and Eve. Having sinned, and departed from original innocence, they passed this on to their children through imperfections in their upbringing. So we have Cain murdering Abel. Cain or Seth passed the seed of bad upbringing on to their children, who passed it on to theirs, on to Noah, who passed it on to Shem, Japheth, and Ham, who passed in on to the children of Lot, who passed it on to those responsible for founding Canada or the Ukraine, who passed it on to our parents, who passed it on to us.

It is, necessarily, in all cases, essentially sin. It is only relative degrees of sin. All far short of original perfection, and so all fall short of proper parenting. All children suffer from bad parenting, to greater or to lesser degree. This is why Philip Larkin wrote:

“They fuck you up, your mom and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.”

Not to excuse parents—all parenting is not equal. Some parents are also intentionally evil. This is why Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

This is a fundamental problem. This is the original problem. Because we are naturally inclined, as children, to see our parents as the measure of all things, as our ground of being, the source of truth and morals, as gods. Accordingly, the errors and the sins they tempt us to are difficult to erase, and probably require divine intervention. It is the first and most dangerous idolatry.

This is why the Bible says, more than once, that “the sins of the father are visited upon the sons, unto the third and fourth generation.” This is why, when one prospective Christian wants first to bury his father, Jesus says “let the dead bury their own dead.” This is why we must be born again. We must fight free of the taint of our upbringing.

The Christian message has often been perverted to be one of “family values.” That is not in the Bible; that is the opposite of the Biblical message

“Honour your father and your mother,” yes. But that means support them in their old age, and ungrudgingly. Idolizing them is the greater danger. It is comparable to idolizing your motherland. We know from Nuremberg where that leads. But idolizing a parent is a greater risk than idolizing your motherland.

It is the original sin.

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