On Our Inheritance of Original Sin

Original Sin is one of the more scandalous Christian doctrines (there are lots of them). How can an innocent baby be guilty of Original Sin? How can we be born into Original Sin, through no fault of our own? And how did Adam’s sin manage to corrupt us, all these millennia later? It seems nuts, and insanely unjust.

Most of the difficulties can be cleared up with a few clarifications.

First, no one is guilty of Original Sin these days. That’s a misconception. Both Orthodox and Catholic communions – and all the Protestants, so far as I know – teach that while we suffer the consequences of Original Sin – depravation of our wits, moral error, concupiscence, pain, and death – we are clear of the guilt of it. We are guilty only of the sins we ourselves commit. Which is plenty. But we are not guilty for the sins of others, including those of our First Parents. Because why? Because we could not have committed their sins, and so are not responsible for those sins.

God is just, so he shall not punish us for crimes we did not commit.

Nevertheless are we born into Original Sin, in the sense that we are all born into a world thoroughly corrupted by it, and with no option but to make our way through it as best we can. That forces all of us to cooperate with the evil acts of the past, at greater or lesser remove. That cooperation with evil is itself an evil. And it deforms us.

E.g.: worry about remote cooperation with the sin of abortion is a perennial concern of Catholics considering whether it is altogether licit for them to use pharmaceuticals developed from foetal stem cells harvested decades ago. Does not their consumption of products derived from abortions long ago effectually magnify the sinful effects of those abortions, and increase the likelihood of other such evil acts?

Yes. Moral value is conserved, and can compound, either to good or to ill.

It’s not just that we cooperate with evil now and then. All our acts cooperate remotely with evil to some extent. For, consider: each of us is the descendant of murderers. We exist as effects of those murderers, and – here’s the key – are by all of them affected. We are in our very being founded upon evil acts. And we are born into a world perfused throughout by such acts, and by them devastated. Their evil deforms our world – renders it evil – and so it deforms us; we then each contribute our own portion of wickedness to the continuing devastation of the created order.

There is no worldly escape from this predicament.

This has been going on for hundreds of generations. Evil has deformed our stock at every step of the process. There has been coevolution of evil and man, so that the Culture of Death has formed us each as a Body of Death, right down to our DNA. Evil has selected for evil. We are adapted to it, and for it.

Into that squalid evil soup is every pure innocent infant born.

So, it’s pretty simple really.

Fortunately, GNON selects harder for good than for evil. That’s the only way we still have a world. Whitehead: the instability of evil is the morality of the universe. Despite its devastation, the world is still mostly good. It has adapted to survive evil, and to prosper in spite of it, at least for a while.

20 thoughts on “On Our Inheritance of Original Sin

  1. And if the 2nd coming of Christ is any guide and the promise of the New Heavens and Earth.

    The corruption of this universe can only be done by its destruction at God’s command and replaced with an entirely New Cosmos free of the previous corruption.

    All the corruption of the Old including all the deleterious mutations that give us various decreases of our physical powers and disabilities like short-sightedness, blindness, lameness and so forth are the results of this corruption.

  2. Evil is unstable because every Saruman will rebel against every Sauron if he thinks that serves his purposes best. If he was loyal type, he would not serve Sauron to begin with.

    There is a book I very much recommend, Envy from Helmut Schoeck. It demonstrates that in a practical, sociological sense, not in an ultimate-metaphysical sense, that envy is the root of all evil. The envious man does not want to steal his neighbor’s cow, he wants to kill the neighbor’s cow, in order to punish the neighbor for that sense of personal inferiority caused by the neighbor having a cow and he not.

    This is why evil is not rational self-interest. Those who would merely covet the neighbors cow in a rational self-interest way, would not want to kill that cow, would want to steal it, moreover they would want to steal any cow, not that particular cow. When contemplating rational self-interest and looking for any easy cow to steal, most of the time he would figure out it is better to just buy one, the benefit of having a cow does not worth having to deal with the police or with an enraged cow owner with a shotgun.

    Envy is a very weird kind of sin. It just makes no sense. Schoeck, being a kind of a naturalist, thinks it may have evolved because in very moderate amounts it is useful: people are not altruistic enough to perform altruistic punishment unless they envy the one who gets away breaking the social rules unpunished. So the master thief gets ratted out by the less skillful thief who envies him. And thus for it being useful in moderate amounts it evolved and then sort of got out of hand, went way beyond its usefulness. I don’t know. This sounds a bit like a forced answer.

    To me envy sounds very much like a weird and difficult to explain disease of the mind. I get it that social status matters a lot, but the man who is worried his neighbor is having higher status than him through having acquired a cow, in a normal mindset would simply compete for status in something else he is better suited for competing in. Every time people talk about cows he would just steer the discussion topic towards school, because his kids are better students than the neighbor’s kids or doing something like that. That would be a healthy reaction. Or… just accepting it.

    Anyway, this made me think. The virtue opposite of the vice of envy would be an ability to fully accept being inferior to someone else and not feel pained by it, being able to honestly respect and praise the superior one and be glad of his success. Every functional state requires something like an aristocracy, and an aristocracy can only be recruited from those who have this virtue.

    • Thanks, Dividualist. Great insights about envy. You are right: it makes no sense. No sin quite does, but envy is less sensible than the others.

      That does raise the question Schoeck tries to answer with his just so story about the evolutionary advantage of envy: how does a bit of nonsense that can cause oceans of social and personal trouble persist in a population? It seems to me that there is a much simpler just so story than the one Schoeck offers: we envy others for their success, and want to undermine it, in order to keep ourselves from falling to the bottom of the totem pole and being ostracized or killed.

      Envy is disastrously maladaptive for groups, because it is the death of authoritative hierarchy, of fealty and loyalty (viz., your notice of Saruman), and of preference for the true excellence of others, thus of altruism, of love. But it can be adaptive for individual humans (viz., Saruman’s alliance with Sauron did have a chance of panning out for him).

      • Envy is at the root of why the French Revolution slaughtered the upper classes.

        And why the Aristocracy of Russia got destroyed with their women taken captive. And that the Tsar and his whole family was gunned down in a dark,dank basement.

        And why modernist architects want to uglify everything and redefine beauty and moral as subjective or in the perspective of the beholder.

        Or that same treatment as to the Divine Law.

  3. Dear Kristor,

    Sorry, totally offtopic.

    So it is clear that the idea of God in Christianity is something very different from the idea of the gods in pagan religions. Ed Feser points out that divine simplicity is a de fide dogma of the Church, that God does not consist of parts and does not change, which makes Him a very different thing than humans, He does not get angry at you if you committed a sin and will not stop being angry after repentance. He warns people against overly anthropomorphizing God, engaging in “superman theology”. I guess it is Christ you can anthropomorphize, because he was fully human as well as fully God. You cannot anthropomorphize God or the God-part of Christ.

    (Indeed, one thing I do not understand in the Bible and keeps me curious is that it seems sometimes the God-part of Christ and the Man-part of Christ were kind of not in harmony. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” have your written on this?)

    The gods of the pagans were really just supermen. Immortal humans with cool superhero powers. Actually modern superhero comics writers have imported their gods like Thor into their stories and found they are totally compatible with Superman or Spiderman. They can share the same story.

    So I guess you see the problem. Christianity in pretty much every European language has borrowed this pagan term, god, Gott, deus, theos, bog, whatever from pagans. Which used to mean a very different thing. Just those immortal humans with cool superhero powers. Which is really a shoddy, incorrect and misleading terminology to refer to God.

    OK I understand why they did it. Because the pagans were worshipping their gods. They wanted to redirect that worship. OK.

    But you see, paganism is dead. It is the age of atheism. No one worships Thor or Mars.

    So now you can stop calling God god, deus, theos, Gott. There is no need for this pagan terminology.

    So in this mindset, ditching the clearly pagan term “god”, because no one worships gods i.e. immortal pagan superheros anymore, what would you call Him?

    • El Elyon, God Almighty, YHWH, I AM, the Most High God, God of gods, King above all gods. Or just God, which as capitalized is a proper noun, and thus denotes a specific entity, whereas ‘god’ is an improper noun that denotes a class or kind.

      The gods are still out there, either as angels or as demons.

      • In Hebrew they are called Elohim:

        Derived from the Hebrew word strength. Basically great Spiritual powers who are above the malakah or messengers termed Angels.

        Those Spiritual powers were formerly in God’s Divine Council or the Heavenly Senate. But they rebelled and became themselves subsequently ruling powers of the various Nations after the Fall of Man.

        Strangely Samuel was also called an Elohim when Saul attempted to summon him:https://biblehub.com/interlinear/1_samuel/28-13.htm

        A great power in himself it seems. The various gods of the Nations are also called “Elohim”(Psalm 82:6) basically YHWH denouncing the injustice of the rule of those Heavenly Powers.

  4. You know, Kristor… you came with a kind of a dangerous idea here. Because it implies that Christ saves not from the guilt of original sin, but from its consequences, such as our own sins. Which sounds like a testable scientific statement: people who accept the saving grace of Christ have at least less of the consequences of original sin, such as that they are sinning less, in plain language: they behave more cooperatively, in the game-theoretic sense, they cooperate with cooperators more than those who do not.

    Theoretically speaking, what if an experiment or observation would disprove it?

    • Observations of the lives of serious Christians – and in particular, of the lives of the saints – indicate that devout practice of Christianity does indeed lead to reductions of sinfulness – and improvements on many other inditia of health and welfare.

    • Marketing-flavored theology annoys me — perhaps more so because I have relatives that seem to talk about religious matters exclusively in catchy Christian phrases (“Let go and let God!”). I’ll break my own rule by mentioning a common Orthodox cliché — the Lord doesn’t simply save us from something; the Lord redeems us for something. That whole atoning, rescuing from hell and perdition bit is just the first step. We are called to be gods, as Holy Writ, the Fathers, and the Church have ever taught. Looking around, though, who can blame you if grunt incredulously.

      I’ve mentioned this story often enough, but I had a Jesuit professor who argued with me that vice was the cause of men’s rejection of the gospel. I thought that it was wrong to question character over a matter of truth; it reminded me of the half-wit psychoanalysis in which social science majors indulged. Many years later, I’ve come to appreciate his stance . . . even to the extent that I think that the unbaptized might really be epistemologically handicapped. Rabbinical traditions teach of the Jewish soul; Christians profess the Holy Spirit and acknowledge his gifts. Looking at the contemporary world and at history — even with all the favorite sordid examples of this medieval lord or that inquisitor — I think that my old Jesuit may have been right.

      “Theoretically speaking, what if an experiment or observation would disprove it?”

      The world isn’t a petri dish, and there are no decent controls for experimenting with mankind. Yet, life and history are instructive, and we’ve seen enough to make some informed comparisons. Typical Victorian English middle class fellow vs. Borisian chav-man? Chartres cathedral vs. Gehry? 13th century French Scholasticism vs. po-mo intersectionalism? Yes, yes, cherry-picking is so unfair, but I propose that in most if not all domains of life, Christianity has made its host populations and societies stronger, more intelligent, more resilient, and more oriented toward truth, beauty, and the good. And I say this as someone with much admiration of pagan civilization, whether Western or Eastern. I wonder at the coming splendor of traditional, Christian China ten centuries in the future . . . what aesthetic heights holy Japan will give to the ages. In the fullness of time . . .

      • … the unbaptized might really be epistemologically handicapped …

        I’ve been turning this notion over a lot in my mind lately. Because, what kind of moral idiot would choose sin and Hell over bliss and Heaven? My kind, apparently; the idiotic kind. Why am I this way? Sin makes us stupid. Our sins have crippled our wits, so that we make stupid decisions. We see but darkly, we think badly. When we doff our Bodies of Death and (please God) don our godly Resurrection Bodies, one of the bits of our original nature that shall be restored to us, which we have never known in life but have always suspected must be there, just beyond our present reach, is immense intelligence. I Corinthians 13:12.

  5. The term the Eastern Orthodox use, “Ancestral Sin”, is a much better way of explaining the concept than the Catholic guilt-trip terminology of “Original Sin”.

    The way the EO teaches, this form of sin doesn’t mean that we ourselves are “guilty” of what Adam & Eve did, but that we *inherited* the propensity to sin.

    Some people will claim “how can someone be guilty of what other people, many generations ago, did. That’s crazy, this entire concept is bullshit”

    But really, although the English-word “guilt” isn’t the best use, the concept checks out.

    Let’s imagine, for instance, the phenomenon of the “crack baby”. The pregnant mother smokes crack cocaine during her pregnancy, and the consequences of that are passed down unto the child. The same is true if the mother uses anti-depressants during pregnancy, or any number of drugs, or even dietary choices.

    The relation between the crack addicted mother and the child is the same as the relationship between the Orthosphere reader and the events in the Garden Of Eden.

    The entire concept isn’t even Christian specifically, or Abrahamic in general, the ancient pagans of Europe, Hesoid in particular, spoke of the progressive degeneration of man from the “Golden Age” (or Satya Yuga) on-through the Iron Age (or Kali Yuga).

    Those living in the latter, more degenerated aeons, inherit various propensities from our ancestors, which we must (ideally) rectify. For instance, on a very physical level, the cap of fitness and bodily health, as a result of dysgenic reproductive practices allowed by modern medicine (I define this is beginning around 1800), have caused for people who would’ve otherwise died as infants or children, and never lived to reproduce, to pass on various defects onto we ourselves.

    Its very humbling to think, despite our fancy pants 5G smartphones, triple-pane argon infused insulated windows, and virtual reality videogames, that all of the “progress” of the last X amount of time, has been totally external to the actual Human animal, and that, on a very personal physical level, we are certainly inferior in just about every day to our great-grandparents, and further-on back.

    • The analogy to the crack baby is spot on.

      “Ancestral Sin” works fine. But I would submit that the disconcerting bit of either “Original Sin” or “Ancestral Sin” for the catechumen – and a fortiori for the infidel – lies in the word “sin.” It seems absurd to attribute sin of any sort to a newborn.

      And so it is. That’s why both lungs of the Church are careful to make clear that while newborns are marked – maculate – by the inheritance of sin imposed upon them by their ancestors, they are innocent of any personal sins.

      The Catechism is quite clear about this:

      397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

      398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God,” but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”

      399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.

      400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay.” Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground,” for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.

      401 After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin. There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin. Likewise, sin frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. And even after Christ’s atonement, sin raises its head in countless ways among Christians. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of sin in man’s history:

      What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures.

      The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity

      402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners:” “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”

      403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul.” Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.

      404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

      405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

      • This concise understanding of “Original Sin” is crucial, yet, one that is obviously not made known far and wide. And it is exactly the gross perversion of this understanding of “Original Sin” which proclaims that no child is, therefore, born innocent. So, this mindset of being born “guilty,” having been conceived of “original sin,” is at the very darkened heart of self-damnation.

      • “So, this mindset of being born “guilty,” having been conceived of “original sin,” is at the very darkened heart of self-damnation.”

        I suspect its also at the heart of why some parents treat their children with cruelty who end up resenting them and Christ as they end up taking the LORDs name in vain through their injustices.

  6. I have to laugh about “innocent” children when a two-year-old throws a tantrum in the middle of the shopping centre. The effects of Adam’s darkness to inordinate desires is in all children, some building good habits and others not. Some are strong-willed little brats which may grow into strong Christians if baptised. But the term innocent should not be applied across the board to all behaviour by children, even quite young ones – they know a lot more than you think and use their powers to get what they want. That is why Baptism is so important to allow the Holy Spirit to work within them to soften the Adamic effects.

    • Every parent knows that little children can be wicked, and must be taught how to be good (even as they naturally *want* to be good). Even dogs lie and steal, rebel, disobey and break rules.

      Original Sin scandalizes people because they err to think that it entails that *newborns* are born guilty, before they’ve had a chance to do anything either good or bad. That seems horribly unfair … because it is. So, it is not the doctrine of the Church.

    • No two year old’s actions can be truthfully accorded to “sinning.” And two year old children cannot be “wicked,” either. Unless, that is, this two year old can invite within a demonic possession? This doesn’t jibe with Reality and runs one hundred percent contrary to all that is known about toddlers.

      The “Adamic effect” on a new conception IS NOT an automatic damnation. The child is not conceived “guilty” of Adam’s Fall. The child is absolutely innocent at conception unless conception is now understood as a curse?

      Can one Fall before he even “stands?”

      So, this is the psychological issue surrounding a crumbling Western Man battling BOTH a perverse interpretation of “original sin” and a general lack of clarity provided by those most intimate with the doctrine itself.

      If Dr. Charlton is right and the bulk of the West desires damnation then it is a “cursed at conception” mentality which provides the entire background to the big picture.

  7. If the risk-reward Garden penalty of sin was physical pain now and in perpetuity (to fulfil His justified pain raison d’être), sin must have been a forbidden physical act or acts. Crime is (for me), a more helpful Rosetta Stone word bridging the Garden into more current day focus. The penalty must fit the crime. Cause and effect.

    He takes a lump of clay. He forms it into His likeness and breathes life into it. He gives it power to think, act, interact and reproduce with other clays caused by His triune relationship in their reproductive act. He observes the outcome and is sorry for what He has caused. At this point, any current day person infected with some mercy simply turns off the clay-animation lights and closes the Garden store. Some may have experienced mercifully putting a loved pet “to sleep”. Not with any sadness, of course.

    Gen 3:16 “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”

    Again, if He was justified in inflicting pain, the crime of the accused must have been the causation of pain.

    The power of the accused was the power of projecting will over nature, the power of mind over matter. Power to bring forth into being and to engage in forbidden acts that the mere mention of in the current day, causes taboo thought suppression of the possibility of recollection.

    Gen 3:22 “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

    If then else. The human is the demoted in power to project its will upon nature to effect action at a distance, and is thus Fallen.

    There is only one thing. Power.

    I may be wrong. But probably not. Jedem Das Seine.

    The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Golden Bough, by Sir James George Frazer

    II. Sympathetic Magic
    1. The Principles of Magic

    “Both branches of magic, the homoeopathic and the contagious, may conveniently be comprehended under the general name of Sympathetic Magic, since both assume that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy, the impulse being transmitted from one to the other by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether, not unlike that which is postulated by modern science for a precisely similar purpose, namely, to explain how things can physically affect each other through a space which appears to be empty.”


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