“Original sin”, the belief in our inherent brokenness is one of humanities most pernicious ideas. Our freedom of expression, desire to build community, sexuality, and ability to take action on our ideas, are all intrinsic instinctual aspects of our humanity. When we twist the perception of any aspect of our basic nature we do a disservice to the beauty of our being, and poison the well from which our futures spring. Casting aside the notion of “original sin” allows us to perceive a broader spectrum of potential behavior. We are better than the worst of our ideas.
The journey there…
Looking at the start of a new year, there is an inevitable contemplation of the future, what it holds, waiting to be discovered. Whether those future experiences will be joyful or cursed is in no small part contingent upon perception. This is not the simplistic declaration of positive thinking to establish control over our lives. The universe is far too big for a particular thought to influence an outcome in a way even remotely close to control. No, perception isn’t about control, rather, it is about the ability to assess, to see what is around us. If something is able to be seen then it must at some level be manifest in our lives. Expanding our perspective beyond “original sin”, seeing ourselves as whole, allows for a greater degree of freedom.
Imagine having someone talk negatively behind your back. You’re certainly not aware of it but it can influence your life based on how much others believe what is said and the role those others have in your life. Now imagine knowing what was said. Despite the fact that the words already existed, your awareness of what was said makes it more real, their influence becoming salient.
Values and Behavior
Our baseline principles govern the way our values manifest in behavior. We may value life, but how we define it, how each of us reaches its grandest fulfillment, is a powerful variable in determining our behavior. A person may speak loud and long about how much they find joy in their lives, but if their internal definition of life is one of “original sin”, (inherent wrongness, being broken, or cut off from a divine source,) this will shade any positive protests with a tinge of melancholy. The result is often a life of constant emotional upheavals, a seeming steady stream of joy broken by persistently powerful lamentations.
The ease of acceptance for “original sin” is likely due to an inherent disjointed feeling, emerging from the moment we understand that our caregivers are separate people and not simply extensions of ourselves. Erich Fromm states it in his book Man For Himself:
“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.”
When an idea, however false, is delivered from an authority figure, this feeling of uncertain connection can be easily conflated with a negative image. Once accepted, it spreads like oil on the surface of our self-image. Fromm noted that an ethic supporting the idea of “original sin” is based on an authoritarian need for controlling people’s basic desires. Small wonder that the notion appears in society the way it does. Our sexuality is depicted as men being inherently prone to rape and women being wanton, as if any degree of sexual expression inevitably leads to a breakdown in society. Our intentional will is met with a predilection for corporal or capital punishment, for children and adults respectively. Free will is seen as devoid of any influence other than the choice of the individual, that inevitably manifests in evil acts. Our drive for progressive realization of our potential is curtailed by a governmental system tied to corporate power in a fascistic desire to control the means of our economic and therefore political development.
We need not stray from the nobility and mobility of human reality. Each of us must “strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of their being in order to find a new equilibrium” (Fromm). The doctrine or social more of “original sin” or brokenness can be cast aside through an active engagement with our integral lives. This means seeing our sexuality as a healthy expression of connection instead of malicious. This mean seeing our choices through the lens of compassion and forgiveness and not as choices made devoid of social, historical and relational context. This means a government that actively supports the growth of everyone instead of creating ever-widening disparities of opportunity.
Casting aside “original sin” means looking at our future within the integral framework of our relational reality. We are more than our thoughts or actions. The manifest potential for us all is as limitless as our imagination can perceive.