The Original Sin of the Species | Spectrum Magazine

“Yet the quality of a religious system depends perhaps less on its specific doctrine, than on the choice of problems that it regards as important, the areas of human experience to which it directs attention.” —Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo

Peter Brown (who wrote one of the most highly-regarded biographies of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and the greatest influence on the Christian Church after Paul and before Aquinas) gives us a perch from which to regard one of the great controversies that Augustine was determined to stamp out.

Augustine’s disputation with Julian, the young ex-bishop of Eclanum, on the origins and effects of original sin, is described by Augustine as an explanation for the misery and suffering of the human race. Their battle comes late in Augustine’s life, the old lion up against a whip-smart and ruthless opponent half his age for whom this battle is personal.

Brown makes it clear that Augustine’s loathing of sex, even within marriage, determines his view of Adam and Eve falling into sin through their unbridled lust for one another. The behavior which Augustine assumes as evidence is their shame at their nakedness after eating from the tree. Everything flows from this. Fully developed, the doctrine then requires baptism for sin in order to escape the horrors of hell — even infant baptism — because even newborns do not escape the stain of original sin. Everyone who is born of a woman is the result of lust; it follows then, infers Augustine, that everyone is born in sin, preternaturally bent from the moment of conception to choose the wrong, to stain the holy, and to willfully, at every turn, gallop off the path of righteousness.

It’s a tortured and torturing logic, one that has inflicted untold pain on Christians since the time of Augustine. In contrast to Augustine, Julian upheld the view that God was, above all, a god of equity. God’s justice was toward each of us individually, not all of us lumped together. We were responsible for our own failures, but God’s grace would be sufficient for us.

What Augustine did in the service of theology — and what many following him in the Church have done from his time to the present — is to ascribe our human propensity to fall and to fail to the weakness of Eve. This has serious consequences. It means that we deflect responsibility for our own state of separation, as Paul Tillich characterized the effects of sin. It builds in moral passivity and projects onto others the motivations for our own deceit. It calls into question whether even God can reach beings so utterly corrupted and debased.

But most of all, it perpetuates sexism because it lays the blame for the world’s misery on women. To paraphrase Paul: “And thus abideth racism, xenophobia, and sexism. But the most pervasive of these is sexism.”

We are, all of us, without exception, complicit in the sin that Adam and Eve committed. Nor do any of us need convincing about the horrors humans can perpetrate on one another. So, we’re not denying that evil can have a human face. It’s just that for millennia the face that appears most often in the Church’s grand narrative of the Fall is that of a woman.

It is interesting that in Paul’s recounting of the story, sin entered the world through Adam, not through Eve. But the story that the Christian world accepts — and it could be argued that the world accepts — lays the blame on Eve.

If it is true, as Brown reminds us, “that the quality of a religious system depends…on the choice of problems” it gives its attention to, then such a religious system is only as strong as its weakest link. The blame for sin that is laid on women derives its power from assumptions that underlie not only matters of theology, hermeneutics, and worship, but also policies and hiring decisions. Its direct application in churches around the world weakens the hope for redemption that we are encouraged to hold. When people use it to denigrate women and “keep them in their place” they are not only wronging women specifically, but they are also trivializing the real issues of grace and redemption.

Brown’s epigram asks us to take seriously where our attention lies, as a church and as Christians. How long are we going to punish women? What are the problems that consume our time, energy, and money?

But if all our essential beliefs are meant to point us to the burning bush of God’s saving love, then we should at least examine that through which we have relegated fifty percent of the human race to the flickering shadows at the circumference of that light.

This prejudice runs deep, as unseen and seemingly innocuous as the air we breathe. It begins early in our lives, with the first telling of the temptation story, and it remains part of our cellular structure until we realize how extensive its roots really are. If you’re a Christian, you know what I mean. In fact, if you’re Western — no, make that human — if you’re human, you know this is the primal prejudice, the one most difficult to overcome because it seems to be the natural order of the world. Augustine’s attitudes toward women were no doubt influenced by his own proclivities and the temptations he wrestled with, but they are not prescriptions for contemporary life. His attempt to derive a theological explanation from biological and emotional responses need not be our default position nor should the Church’s hardening on the role of women be accepted as a fait accompli.

We might begin with the original myth itself — ‘myth’ being defined as an archetypal story about our human origins, not a story that is untrue. The Genesis story of the Fall can be interpreted in many ways, but one central note is the exhilarating paradox that reveals our moral freedom as both liberating and binding us. We are subject to the dizzying expectations of both obedience and independence. We need obedience to claim our independence; we need independence to be freely obedient. It’s a setup for a tragicomedy. Granted, from outside the Garden we literally can’t imagine human existence without the failures of sin built in, but we can imagine (and live) the joy that comes when we know we are accepted by God. Can we accept that we are accepted, as Tillich so powerfully stated in one of his sermons?

There is a streak of sadism that runs through the administering of Christianity. It’s the belief that salvation is only as real as the guilt that makes it necessary. The greater the feeling of guilt, the sweeter the salvation — and there are always people willing to tighten the screws in the service of compliance. All of that for our own good, of course.

But our dilemma is that we do that which we ought not to do, and we do not do what we ought to do. We don’t do the ‘oughts’ because we can’t see how or why they would help us. And we can’t imagine how they would help us because we can’t trust that which we did not make. It’s our desire for independence that brushes aside the ‘oughts,’ but it’s that very independence which can turn the ‘oughts’ into that which we desire with all our heart.

***

After they turn to leave the Garden, we do not read of Adam and Eve talking to God again. A force field has been raised behind them. Nor do they seem resentful at their loss. Stoically, they set about making a life east of Eden — ‘Eden,’ the Hebrew word for ‘delight.’ Once they lived in the innocence of children; now, with experience, they have shouldered the responsibilities that come with consciousness. We wonder, too, if at the end of a long day of toil, they find satisfaction in that which they have hewn out of the hard rock of endurance. There is heartbreak ahead for them, but they will suffer it together, alone and in silence. There is joy in the midst of pain.

They hope for us what they cannot taste: the sweetness of unexpected grace and forgiveness. And we look back, almost wistfully, longing for even the shards of memory which they hold of the Garden.

No promise but that which heals could foreclose on Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, for all the anguish it has caused and all the anger it has raised. Among the rifts between people that we Christians have driven wedges into over the centuries, this one that casts women into a ritually inferior state must be bridged.

“Let us say We are all confused, incomprehensible, Dangerous, contemptible, corrupt, And in that condition pass the evening Thankfully and well,” says the Countess in Christopher Fry’s, The Dark is Light Enough. “In our plain defects We already know the brotherhood of man.”

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communications for 28 years at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, and business communication at Stevenson University for 7 years. He continues as adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods.

Photo: Unsplash.com / Anqi Lu

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8991
1 Like

What frustrates me when reading such articles is how impractical and impotent theological thoughts are when it comes to helping people deal with sin. Instead of theorizing about original sin, I would have greatly preferred to read a testimony about how the power of God has given someone victory over sin so others can have hope and an example to follow as they seek their own victory.

Hi Barry,
I respectfully suggest you have created a bit of a strawman argument for us in the use of Augustine lust, et.al. I would suggest weather it is EGW, Augustine, Calvin or the mere rest of us, we often get in trouble when we add to or take away from explicit teachings of scripture.
It is clear, from scripture, that the woman was misled by the serpent. It is also true that Adam chose to be complicit in the disobedient act. It is also true that as a result of the fall that Genesis states that a woman would suffer in childbirth and would be in subjection to the man. It is also true Adam suffered from his rebellion and thus in working that would bring sweat to his brow… obviously unlike Eden before.
Eve/Woman is no more to be “despised” than her willing accomplice Adam. Paul in Romans 5 actually refers to the fall in Adam. And, thus the plan of redemption became effective with the woman having the privilege to bring forth the Messiah given for ALL MANKIND/humankinds and the creative orders salvation.
In Tim. 2:14 Paul is referring to the woman being misled and thus being submissive to the husband.
In scripture the woman was not to be an object of contempt but man’s helpmate…from the side of man.
I suggest, that simply because these points ARE misused by many over time and presently does not make these “Words, which you have said are important” wrong and irrelevant.
I suggest in the present church matters Roger Nicole, a Christian egalitarian, had it correct. He was cognizant of the need for “called women” desirous of being pastors, recognize as part of their ministry calling they were not to ultimately to “rule over the man.”
I realize that doesn’t make a lot of people happy but I feel it is the OT created order and supported by NT teaching.
As to the fall and consequences of “lost free will”, Luther and the Humanist Erasmus hashed that out rather well, I suggest.
Thanks for your thoughtful article.

2 Likes

William, I suggest quite the opposite. Mankind’s view of how mankind is saved is at best ill conceived and at worst pure bondage.
Correct doctrine points us to the Messiah, the Christ, the atonement for sins. Peace, I give not as the world gives I give to you. Having been Justified by faith in Christ we have peace with God. That reckons us as having been victorious over sin/perfect while we yet remain sinners in the “process/journey of being made holy.” Heb.10.
Regards

1 Like

To understand Genesis one must read Romans, particularly Romans 5. Tounderstand Christ’s View of women one must read the Gospel of John. To understand the devils use of women one must read Revrlation. One must ask why is the church referred to in the female gender.

1 Like

Ah, Tom. You may have put your foot in it. Maybe the question should be, why do we think the women in the Apocalypse represent churches. The part I like to call “The Saga of the Dragon” never uses the words “church” or “the church”, at all, does it?

Or, of course, sabbath, or Sunday, or Sunday law, or TEN commandments, or pope…or Roman Catholic or Seventh-day Adventist. Or did I miss something? :wink:

2 Likes

Adventism was built on the aftermath of a great misunderstanding. To recover it developed a complex end time scenario that up them in first place. To do so the had to first redefine the human nature of Christ then they had to develop a two Department heavenly sanctuary. then they had to develop a perfect final generation. A serious reference back to the human nature of Christ. of course law became more important than Grace. The final test is a generational replay of the three worthies of Daniel. The question from first to last is Who alone is worthy of worship? Right now the president of the General Conference is doing his best to make an image to the beast. My way or the Highway is not compatible with Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden an I will give you rest… There is absolutely no rest in Ted’s agenda.

4 Likes

Men are the physically stronger gender. Through history they are the ones that duel, wrestle, construct and tear down with brute force. In our culture men tackle, strike and win the gold cups. Despite all the force, muscle, and brawn they shrivel at the touch of an attractive woman. This is the arena in which they are vulnerable and even weak. This is where Augustine places the blame for his own sinful propensities.

Jesus places the “sin” not on the object of the lustful heart, but on the eye of the beholder, and suggest it even be plucked out. Human nature always kills the messenger; and the message is that the sin is in the heart of man. Eve just brought it to Adam’s attention, and he can’t handle it - “Eve made me do it.” Neither could the crowd of men, who saw Jesus write in the sand with His finger - and they killed the messenger, yet again.

2 Likes

[quote=“tjzwemer, post:7, topic:16689, full:true”]
Adventism was built on the aftermath of a great misunderstanding. … There is absolutely no rest in Ted’s agenda.
[/quote

Flawless summary of a losing battle.

1 Like

Exactly. You reiterated what I was trying to say, and which appears, by the comments here, to have been misunderstood. The discrimination against women is the original discrimination and continues, despite some victories. The Christian Church didn’t invent it, but it did almost nothing to reverse it and even made it worse by embedding it in doctrine. We have a long way to go. Headship Theology is our equivalent to Augustine’s overreach.

1 Like

The condition we have inherited from our first parents is inescapable, eternal separation from God and worse non-existence as if we never were. These natural consequences are only mitigated by the sacrifice of Jesus, our response to this and His promise to come again and once and for all close the great chasm between us and God.

I notice that some commentators imply that women are more culpable than men and thus are amongst other things to be subjugated by men (headship). Going further that we should simply accept this and perpetuate with prejudice all perceived cultural constructs which are believed to be supportive of the curse God described about women. As if we should not act toward one another with equality, respect or work to transform ourselves to restore our original state of being.

I would say that the “headship” ideology is now the stumbling block that God has called our attention to resolve so that His work can go to the next level. Acceptance of Present Truth is the key to our kaizen process for understanding the love of God and more deeply connecting with Him. The crisis we know face requires a different level of thinking than that which brought us to where we are now. God is calling use to cast off this selfish and bias attitude towards Females (others as well) and pointing out that such attitudes are incompatible with our communion with God moving forward.

1 Like

To those who decry the fairness of the federal headship of Adam, (that we are in bondage to sin because of his rebellion), consider that we see every day examples of this principle all around us … your country of birth was not by choice, but because of where your parents lived when they gave you birth. In many countries children are born into poverty, have disease and die in infancy, solely because of who their parents were.
Adam’s posterity are under a curse. We live in a world of sin and we all die because of his rebellion. Not Fair? Every time you sin you give your yea and AMEN to what he did. We have such solidarity with Adam as fallen creatures that he federally represented us - such that what he did, counts as what we did. Likewise the last Adam, Jesus Christ, federally represents us so that what he did for us also “counts/reckoned” as what we did. You cannot reject this doctrine for Adam but have it for Christ.
Now, admittedly it has become fashionable in “liberal/progressive” theology to deny both. So, I guess they aren’t inconsistent, but in violation of long held Protestant belief. That is for the reader to decide.
Regards

I would clarify that the headship in terms of the marriage relationship is indisputable. It is also true that sin and death condition we inherited are as a result of our first parents actions and is a natural consequence. I would agree that many Christians create theology which essential deny this and preach it from pulpits today. I think more often than not this theology is used as an excuse to avoid personal conduct responsibility and excuse ones behavior so as to ease the pangs of conscience. If this theology they ascribe to were true we wouldn’t have ever needed Jesus sacrifice.

I am curious about the habit we (yeah myself included) have of labeling something as “liberal/progressive” is meaningful at all. This is was originally used in a secular/political environment to describe, in a sweeping manner, difference in political ideology and is now applied for nearly everything in cultures that have a history of its usage. Though often used I am puzzled as to its usage or place in discussions of this nature as it either confuses the issues (not all cultures use this construct) or can be used to create a stark unbridgeable demarcation of ideology with either the intent of, or as a by-product, creating hostility. I think we should eschew such descriptions as they are unhelpful.

I am unsure what you mean by Federal Headship could you explain that as I haven’t heard of this before :slight_smile:

A common hermeneutical error of opponents of women’s ordination is that they regard typology as backward looking rather than forward looking. Christ is called the second Adam in order to explain and describe Christ, not Adam. The federal headship teaching in the NT does not purport to say that Adam was the head of Eve or that Adam’s sin rather than Eve’s sin brought sin into the world, or anything else about Adam. Types are mechanisms that explain antitypes. Antitypes are not mechanisms that purport to explain types.

David, this isn’t a sound bite. So this is a start to investigate established theological differences and their origins.



Machen also wrote an excellent book in the early 1900’s entitled Christianity and Liberalism (referring to theological liberalism)
Regards

Thank you and yes I saw the wiki definition, however I find it unhelpful or irrelevant when discussing with many, especially with those who have no concept of such, on such matters. With those who do have this in mind it just tends to drag out civil political related baggage and creates an us vs. them type of environment which again is unhelpful. Additionally I just don’t see that concept used in Bible so I try to avoid it.

Thank you though for the insight.

David,
These are theological categories…not political or SDA categories. If you want to be knowledgeable of theological history especially the last 200 yrs, I would recommend it. It is in my estimation really no way to really understand theologically what is going today on without this foundation.
It’s kinda like knowing there is a nuclear bomb vs. real insight into the mechanics of how they are made. Or, that surgeons do appendectomies vs. how.
Cheers
Is it a necessity for salvation no. Is it useful…yes.

Interesting concept Phil. But, if there was not a type why would there need to be an antitype? If one understands the NT Christ our high priest, from the tribe of Judah, how would that make any sense without the type? I suggest, they both inform each other. It isn’t just a new paradigm without former meaning.
I suggest, a cultural influence such as slavery was allowed in the OT theocracy. Paul while not abolishing it in his day asked that slaves be treated kindly and as “brother/sisters.” All being one in Christ is positional and only situational according to gifts as to roles in the body. Likewise women were culturally forbidden certain rights in the early church societies. As I have suggested, if willing to acknowledge the creation order I see no reason women should not be allowed situational pastor positions.
Christ, the second Adam, refers backward to creation when He say’s “male and female he created them” it isn’t “just forward looking.” It is more “continuities and discontinuities” rather than abolish the old from memory.

Here’s another way of explaining my point. The typological comparison of Christ to Adam teaches us a lot about Christ but tells us nothing about Adam that we did not already know. That is what I mean when I say that typology is always forward looking and never backward looking.

Types are teaching mechanisms that are intended to facilitate our understanding of anti-types. In contrast, anti-types are not teaching mechanisms that are intended to facilitate our understanding of something else.

If Seventh-day Adventist opponents of women’s ordination understood typology or hermeneutics in general, they would not argue that the typological comparison of Christ to Adam signifies that Adam is the head, the savior, the high priest, or the god, as it were, of the family. Again, the comparison tells us nothing about Adam, his relationship with Eve, the relations between husbands and wives, or the relations between men and women. The comparison only teaches us things about Christ.

1 Like

The Garden of Eden story, especially as Ellen White tells it, simply doesn’t work. In Ellen’s version, God sent an angel to warn Adam and Eve of a suave, lying con man who would attempt to persuade them to eat of the forbidden tree. Satan flew under the radar by coming as a serpent, outwitting God. (Could NOT happen, of course.) If God told of Satan’s plan to come as an impressive human, He would surely tell them as soon as He knew Satan was coming as a serpent.

Surprisingly, when the authors call God “Yahweh/LORD (Jehova)”, there is little or no evidence that He is either of the omnis. If He were both, Adam and Eve would have said, “Beat it. We know all about you.”
The words “fall” and "sin’ do not occur in this story. They are NT reinterpretations. I agree with Barry that this “myth” is a justification for rotten life–even worse than now–that is women’s lot. The reason given in Gen 3 is outrageously unfair. It’s never fair to punish anybody or anything–even snakes–for evils they didn’t commit.

The bottom line for me: I can understand love motivating suffering for others. I cannot see justice in the neccessity for it.

2 Likes