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How “Original Sin” is Destroying Western Society

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No arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death… and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Leviathan

Hobbes’s famous description of humanity in the state of nature matches the Christian view that had dominated with world for the previous millennium and a half of misery, unless, that is, you were rich. Man is virtually a beast, and the Christian view is that after Adam had sinned, all his descendants—the whole human race—were cursed with an “original sin” that condemned them to just this sort of behavior. Everyone is born a sinner, so it is no wonder that they should have lived fearful, short and brutish lives. W E H Lecky (History of European Morals) thought clergymen, through their desire to show humanity in “an abnormal and dislocated condition” to justify their doctrine of original sin—and its power to drive believers into the churches, mites in hand—“propounded distorted and degrading views of human nature”. He continues:

Nothing can be more certain than that that which is and distinctive in human nature is not its vice but its excellence. It is not the sensuality, cruelty, selfishness, passion or envy, which are all displayed in equal or greater degrees in different departments of the animal world, it is that moral nature which enables man apparently alone of all created beings, to classify his emotions, to oppose the current of his desires, and to aspire after moral perfection… benevolence is more common than cruelty, the sight of suffering more readily produces pity than joy, gratitude not ingratitude is the normal result of a conferred benefit.

So what is this state of nature to which Hobbes refers? With no arts and letters, it was a life of illiteracy and unsophistication, and Hobbes says there was no society by which humanity could live together. So, he is speaking of an animal that indeed lived most of its life in solitude, but just occasionally clubbing an unsuspecting woman to drag by her hair back to his cave, to have a lusty time for a while, and thus propagate the human race. It is a comic strip description of “the life of man” because it was only by living together in groups that humans became human, and found any need for morals. Unless living communally had distinct advantages over living separately, no prehumans would ever have come together to live. There would have been no point in it. The point of it was security.

Humans were not the first animals to find the advantages of communal living. As our closest relatives the various kinds of chimpanzees are social animals, it is reasonable to assume that our common ancestor with the chimpanzees was social too. Whenever this solitary ancestor of ours lived, it was too early for it to have been human. We must have slowly emerged into consciousness living socially, and society must have seemed as natural as the landscape and the heavens to the first humans.

Sociality meant more hands and more eyes—there was safety in numbers, safety from attack and safety from starvation. Groups were more effective as a defence against maurauding predators, and were more effective at hunting and gathering. But group effectiveness depended on them agreeing to share danger and to share their food. Any who failed to share their spoils fairly or evaded their duty to help defend the group had to be punished. They were driven out of the group and faced just such an existence as Hobbes described, a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” one! On their own, they had little chance of living long. This is what Hobbes must have meant, for humans have never not lived in groups. The ones left in the group were fairer and more responsible, and over the years became more so by a process of eliminating the bad genes of those who failed in their social duties—they evolved the moral instinct to act such as to promote sociality.

The moral instinct has evolved over several million years to protect our social nature by inclining us to be helpful, and not to cheat or evade our responsibilities to others. Where then is original sin in all this? It can only be the tendency, which still exists in some people, to prefer self to others. It is, in other words, the atavistic tendency to revert to the behavior of the solitary brute described by Hobbes, and it was not sin for such an animal, but simply the instincts it had evolved to serve as its own survival strategies. It might seem for small boys, in particular, to be highly romantic to be Robinson Crusoe, but the reality of solitary life is not at all romantic. Crusoe benefitted by salvaging a lot of modern gear from the wreck of his ship, and befriending a native, Man Friday. Having no such fortune or inclinations to trust others quickly removes the glamour.

But theologically original sin was not a reversion to a primitive form of behavior. After all Adam and Eve were newly created, so could not have known a more primitive behavior, and the general nobility of people towards others is played down in the eagerness of Christianity to force its members into church by the guilt of original sinfulness! But it was seen as concupiscence, an obsession with personal gratification, one might say selfishness and greed, the characteristics of the solitary animal!

The fact is that humans, unlike bees, ants and all social insects, have not had enough evolutionary time to adapt fully to social life. A sort of 20:80 (Pareto) principle applies to humans. Around 20 percent of human group membership are inclined to cheat to get more than their fair share of communal earnings, while about 80 percent stick to being moral, stick to the communal principles that have become instinctive to them. The proportion is variable because it depends on the response of others in society. When others are moral—stay fair in social transactions—there is a lesser temptation to be immoral than when others are cheating. Then the level of honesty declines throughout the society. If society becomes thoroughly immoral—nothing to do with sex, but entirely to do with honesty and justice—then society will collapse.

The distribution of society’s wealth over the last three decades has moved so much in favor of a minority of megarich people at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the lower and middle classes that people are beginning to notice, and are getting angry at the injustice of it. The over rich class, of course, controls almost everything via politics, religion, financial affairs, the military, and the media, and so have been successful hitherto in using the smoke and mirrors of supposed external threats, celebrity pap, and perpetual warfare to distract the poor and moderately rich from what has been happening. The recent blatant extraction of vast amounts of money from working people of all classes other than the super rich has put paid to the spin. People are waking up to their exploitation.

The Christian churches have themselves been an arm of the establishment’s instruments of propaganda. The top hierarchs of the church have always been the allies of the rich and their political state machinery. Dissenting voices are sometimes faintly heard in the churches, but it is expunged or swamped by the leadership, and misreported by the media when it is reported at all, and that is when it is not empty verbiage intended for mass consumption. The so called “great” religions, like Christianity are imperial religions and serve imperialist purposes. They serve the ambitions of the rulers (biblical archons) of the imperialist nations, the same super rich that have been increasingly robbing us all in the post war years.

At the core of Christianity—in the self sacrificial life of Jesus and his moral teaching—is a social morality largely reflecting our socially adapted human instincts. It was taken over by Constantine as a tool of Roman imperialism when the empire was shivering with early tremors of its final cataclysm. The central morality of Christ, which was to favor the poor and condemn the rich in a world already perceived as grossly unfair was diluted by the extension of sacramental magic that existed already in the messianic meal, also called the mass or communion. A modern Christianity should abandon magic and mysticism, abandon the imperialist overpainting of the original Christian morality, and return to the human morality of Christ, the socially necessary morality of love of neighbor, a fairer distribution of wealth, and a readiness to openly criticize rulers when they transgress these moral norms.

Written by mikemagee

7 April, 2011 at 10:08 pm

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