"Original" sin—dominance?—or wondrous creation

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If you hear much preaching or read books by authors that describe themselves as Christian, you may have run into talk about "original" sin and the resulting dark view of human nature. Scientific studies find that happiness is the natural feeling of many people that results in longer life, happier marriage or partnering, work experiences, and healthier lives.

Three sources can help us think about creation, sin, and happiness. One is reflecting on the Bible as a conversation. Another is to look into our own experiences and how we feel. Third is to read the experiences of sensitive and insightful people so we can compare their experiences with ours.

What does the Bible really say?
If the Bible is important to you, then read this section. If it is not, perhaps skip ahead, but come back later to find what the Bible really says.

You can read the Bible as if every word is literal — like a science book. Could the creation narratives in the Old Testament be poetic? When a familiar Psalm says

"The Lord is my shepherd,"

is the Psalmist saying, "The Lord = my shepherd" or poetically, the Lord acts like a shepherd? Think of the book of Genesis in the same poetic way. Elsewhere on this web site I tell about Martha Graham, the creative choreographer. She was asked by a critic, who had just watched the first performance of one of her ballets, "What were you trying to say?" Martha Graham answered, "If I could tell you, then I wouldn't have to dance it!" The first chapters of Genesis are a dance that say more than literal words! It is a poem. Often, a poem or dance is far more exciting and meaning-filled than literal words.

Genesis as a poem, a dance!
Read this early part of the Bible as you would watch an imaginative dance either in ballet or a musical. Notice that in chapter 1 creation is in seven days, but that was done to support the priestly celebration of the Sabbath. The order of creation in chapter 1 is similar to the order in evolution; the first day light is created, but not until the fourth does God create the sun! Chapter 2 is the opposite; it starts with God creating man, then the animals, then the earth to support them, and finally woman. Adam in Hebrew is the word for "man", and Eve "living", so do these refer to individuals? The point of chapter 2 is to lead up to the garden of Eden and that first sin. Chapter 2 and 3 were written centuries before chapter 1. The Hebrew in the two is as different as Shakespeare's English is from our's.

Science, evolution, and Genesis
Before getting into the heart of creation, what about Genesis 1 and 2 and evolution? Is Genesis as literal as scientific laws like Newton and gravity? The "scientific method" means you observe, draw logical conclusions, then test those findings, then replicate just as Newton did. Genesis 1 and 2, so different from each other, cannot be tested; how can they be science?

"Intelligent Design" and creationism claim to be scientific — focusing on gaps in the fossil history. Yet over the last century new discoveries of fossils keep filling gaps. AFederal Court finds intelligent design is creationism without naming God as the Designer. My own studies in geology greatly enhance my understanding of God! Evolution deepens and enriches my vision of God!

Lift your vision from earth to the heavens. Here are photos taken by the Hubble telescope above our atmosphere. Many show galaxies that we had never seen before. Spend time looking at what those photos reveal! An astronomer, talking about the sizes in galaxies, said their suns' size and distances are like an orange here in Austin, Texas, and the nearest one is an apple at Chicago! They are constantly in motion, held in relationship and moving (or dancing!) by Newton's gravity.

The earliest humans were creative
In African caves artifacts are dated scientifically to 77,000 years ago that show people had curiosity and used hands to creatively mold and shape, then figured out how to bake clay vessels then created dyes to decorate them. Their minds and souls wanted to create. Perhaps the earliest sign of the image of God was to create these vessels to beautify food! Wine residue is on vessels from 7,000 years ago; clay images of beer making date from then!

Archaeological evidence from 30,000 BCE suggests women used the moon's cycle to practice birth control—using the moon cycle to know when they could conceive!

Earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible report dancing and singing and name musical instruments. Read the Song of Song for sensual delight. Sensual couples in terra cotta sculpture date from ancient Babylonia. Is the image of God human creativity: enjoying thinking, problem solving, harnessing fire and animals? Singing, dancing? Sensual pleasure?

Please remember that Genesis 1 and 2 are poetic visions, not scientific reports; they are like a dance. Read the creation poem in Proverbs 8:22–31; wisdom — in Greek sophia a feminine name — like a master craftsman creates for and with God and "delighted in the human race!" When God became human, he was a carpenter who builds, repairs, crafts!

Dialogue and Encounter
Let's consider now what chapter 2 of Genesis was leading up to: the first sin. When you read it, ask yourself what is going on in these conversations. Think yourself into the conversation. Here is a long quote from a wise teacher, Dr. Fred Gealy, a Bible scholar and musician, about the conversations in chapter 3 of Genesis. Whatever your first reaction to his words, consider and probe imaginatively into what he says:

…let us examine our study in terms of dialogue (or conversation).

  • First between me and myself;
  • then between myself and my neighbor;
  • third, between myself and God,

This dialogue was in me before it was in Genesis, and when I read it in the Bible, I see myself mirrored in it—myself, as standing before and under God.

If then this is a dialogue between me and myself, I am the snake. The snake is not outside me, The snake is inside of me. And I, the snake, say to myself: "Did God say you shall not?" And myself says to me, "God did say you shall not, or you shall die." Then I say to myself (don't you say this to yourself every day?), "God doesn't really mean what he says. And anyway, why don't you try him out? The risk may not be as great as it appears. You know: nothing risked, nothing gained. And it could turn out to your advantage. [It's easier to get forgiven than get permission!]" Myself needs only a little encouragement from me to enable myself to see that the forbidden is good, a delight to the eyes, and even a desire of the mind. For what is wrong with being wise? So, I eat, and I give my neighbor to eat and in doing so I close the gap between me and myself and between me and my neighbor….

This is not the end of the story. Something has gone wrong, I am too wise, I can see too much — I didn't think I looked this way; I can't be this kind of person, I'd better cover myself up. I'm not fit to be seen as I am. Here I sit, naked, before myself, before my neighbors naked and defenseless in the presence of God. So I must prepare myself a wardrobes consisting of masks. Here a switch occurs, Up to now I've been the snake, In the same sense, I must henceforth be the Lord God in the story. It is beginning to look as if I cannot escape from myself. If I close up the dialogue on the snake's side, it breaks out of the God side, We will, so we say, flee from the presence of the Lord God. We shall hide, but it is no use. The Lord God will open up the dialogue. He will flush me out. He will call to me in my hiding, and with a loud voice he will say, "Where are you?" Not because he does not know where I am. Not because I do not know where I am, but just because I do know where I hide myself, (For I always hide myself in the place where I hadn't ought to be.) The Lord God in the story calls because it is only in the dialogue that I can effectively hear the question, "Where am I?"

But the story is still not through with us. We have not yet had the dialogue between myself and my neighbor, When God says to me, when I say to myself, "What is this that you have done?" myself, the man, replies, "The serpent beguiled me and I ate." Once again, man or woman, I will try to close the gap and to bring the dialogue to an end by brash but unconvincing self-deception, absurdly insisting to myself that I am not the man you think I am, I am not the man you are looking for. Yet I cannot get away with this. This is not really a way out. For even the woman is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. And if I am the snake, I am also the woman, There is no way that I can put responsibility for my sin on someone or on something outside of myself. From this standpoint there is no outside of myself. I do not deceive myself. I do not deceive God. Finally, there is no way out in cleverness of repartee, such as, "The woman thou gavest me," Nor can I escape the dialogue by blaming myself on another, "I am what you made me."

There is more to Dr. Gealy's writing, which he called "Dialogue and Encounter," but that is the heart of it, and that is the heart of letting the Bible really come alive as a series of conversations in which we probe into our own selves and into the heart of God.

"Original Sin"
What sermons and books call original sin has its roots in some phrases scattered throughout the Bible that were brought together and emphasized by an early church leader, Augustine of Hippo. He had a fascinating life in tumultuous times. When as an adult he was converted to Christianity, he looked back at his sexual escapades with women, and decided that the cause of sin is sex, and that women are a major part of the problem. Most of the Bible does not support this view! The Bible as a whole sees sex as good. Some teach that part of the celebration of every Sabbath should be making love! Birth of children is seen in the Bible not as the birth of sin, but as the beginning of a life filled with potential. The Bible takes sin very seriously, as a daily struggle we experience, but not as sex or starting before birth or at birth in what some call "original sin."

Look Within and Look at Creation
Carefully searching our own feelings and experiences can lead to amazing depth of understanding of creation and sin. To begin consider three different facets of creation and related sin.

First, Americans burned two billion gallons of gasoline in 2003 while vehicles were not moving—at stop signs, lights, and waiting in line! How many tons of emissions? My Prius like hybrids turns off the engine when stopped. Learn more about industrial effects that damage this creation.

Second is the world of nature as seen in colorful spring or fall colors, sunrise and sunset splashing colors across the sky, or the many forms of life. For example, watching the Purple Martins and Mockingbirds and deer cavorting outside my study window is a delight. Do you find creation often delightful?

The other aspect of creation is we humans. Why has the human body been drawn and sculpted from early cave drawings through the artists of early civilizations to modern imaginative abstractions? Augustine's sexual arousal by women may be due to his own desires to control and to possess! The Hebrew Bible's Song of Songs is sensual for mutual pleasure! Men and women through the ages have admired the sculptures of Venus and other woman and men. The human body has an innate beauty. The human body can be provocative, as lovers know, without desires to control and possess, but to mutually enjoy and commune. Dominance/ control not sex are the problem!

Consider the findings of scientific researchers into sexual assault and rape. For the rapist sex is a weapon that he uses because of his passion to control and to possess, or to sadistically destroy. Usually the rapist leaves the victim alive though traumatized. And further study finds that the vast majority of rapists were sexually abused as young boys! They were traumatized when too small and weak to resist a parent or other grown acquaintance. Once grown some are driven to do the same to those they perceive as weaker and unable to defend themselves from his control.

Why is it that religious writers and preachers have so often assumed that all of us are driven by the sight of a human body to control and possess or destroy? Is that sin itself?

Sin is desires based in our self-centered urges to control. The origin of sin is not in a Garden of Eden or in women or in sex. The origin of sin is in the children's desire to control, to play with the toys others are using, to have things their way. This is rooted in the human need to survive. But just as early humans learned for mutual protection and survival to live in tribes, so we learn to share, practice give-and-take, and to balance independence and interdependence. Re-read this paragraph, substituting your name for the word child; how much do we want what others have — coveting is the tenth commandment — and how do we balance independence and interdependence?

A wise theologian suggested that the experience in the Garden of Eden was not a fall – the orthodox view – but our rising to responsibility, creativity, and maturity.

Sin is driving a car "like the devil," cutting people off and doing it all for one's own sake — not thinking of any one else. Driving this way is self-centered or egocentric. The root of sin is self-centeredness and rebellion against the Creator and against other persons.

Instead of thinking about sin, immersing ourselves in dark views of humanity, let's look around at this created world. Let's look at this world that we are co-creating with the Creator God. Let us be very honest in how we have destroyed so much of this creation, but some have brought it back to what it was. Living in Texas, I have heard old timers talk about when Anglos first came here, the grass stretched to the horizon with scattered clumps of trees, and the grass was as tall as the belly of a horse. Now scrub brush, mesquite, cactus, cedars, and other plants have taken over, while the grass is short and scarce. Except some have brought it back to a savanna of grass by patient work. As a result the grassy land is more productive than the scrub brush. In the same way bays and rivers were polluted so they could not support life, but after human intervention, they now support many varieties of aquatic life. Clean water and clear air are about creation and what we humans do with it.

Co-creation with the Creator also means building structures that sustain life, use less energy, use less resources, and are as beautiful as a spring hillside covered with wild flowers. It means we find how cities can enhance the life of all citizens, and educate all citizens for an enjoyable and productive life. It means we design society and economy so that all profit. Co-creation means we work together in teamwork and we find patterns of management that make work more meaningful, more enjoyable. Co-creation means we find ways to enjoy each other within this creation in ways that cannot spoil the creation, but rather sustain it. I think of sailing and canoeing, of swimming, biking, and hiking. Co-creation effects what we eat and drink and what we avoid eating and drinking, and practice of exercise. And it means we have beautiful bodies and souls and minds in a life enhancing world amidst an awesome universe.

Read the book Original Blessing by Matthew Fox to explore this view of creation. Read Authentic Happiness by Martin E. P. Seligman to explore positive psychology.

Copyright © 2002, 2007 John F. Yeaman