Sunday, February 13, 2011

Original Sin

Ayn Rand
I cannot get away from the forcefulness of Ayn Rand's argument against the concept of original sin.  Read it and, if you're willing, tell me what you think.
"Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

"It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some inexplicable claim upon him—it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

"The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.

"A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man’s nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

"Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a “tendency” to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

"What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge—he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil—he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor—he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire—he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy—all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was—that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love—he was not man.

"Man’s fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he’s man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives.

"They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man."
The quote above was extracted from For the New Intellectual, "Galt's Speech", Signet Edition.


Skeptigirl said...

I don't beleave in original sin. I beleave we have a sinful nature, a selfish desire that causes us to hurt others to get what we want, but I do not beleave in original sin. I have yet to find a convincing argument for it in the Bible. I think it is just something the Catholics made up and the rest of us kept it after we split from them.

Craig said...

I think of original sin more like a developmental disability that we are all born with.
In itself original sin doesn't have an element of personal responsibility, it's not our fault, it just is. In John 9, Jesus gives some teaching around this. The personal sin isn't being blind, the personal sin is being blind and claiming that you can see fine.
We inherit a brokenness, a disability if you will, called original sin but it's not sin in the commonly used sense. It's a missing of the target but not one that we are responsible or guilty of. We are only guilty when we try to exalt ourselves or claim that we are alright.

Craig said...

Also, is reason a virtue or a preference?

Kane Augustus said...

Skeptigirl: I am currently writing another post on Original Sin, and why I reject it, too. As far as 'selfishness' is concerned, I think some selfishness is rational and good (e.g., monogamy), and some selfishness is irrational and bad (e.g., robbing a bank). When it comes to the concept of selfishness, I think it is a notion that has received a lot of bad rap, and not a lot of thought. Selfishness can be good.

Craig: I reject the idea of original sin. Implicit from that rejection is the equal rejection of every human having a "developmental disability" at birth. I will have to re-read John 9 to have a clearer view of what you are referring to, but as for now, I think original sin is hogwash and a psychologically damaging point of view.

I am aware of the difference between original sin and volitional sin; the latter of which you stated is "sin in the commonly used sense." I do have a question for you, however: why is it sinful to see yourself as "alright"? What sin is committed by viewing yourself as a noble, competent creature that is capable of governing over oneself?

Is reason a virtue or preference? Reason, in my estimation, is a virtue: it is the vehicle through which we act to gain and keep certain values (e.g., productivity, industriousness, happiness). I don't see how reason could be a preference since reason is required to discern between preferences.

justsomename said...

Ok, maybe it's more like being born without a drivers license. There's nothing legally wrong with not having a drivers license. The issue is when you drive without one.

Reason - I guess it depends how you look at it.

Kane Augustus said...

Craig: You wrote the following,

"Ok, maybe it's more like being born without a drivers license. There's nothing legally wrong with not having a drivers license. The issue is when you drive without one."

Your analogy works better this time around, for sure. However, I'm not of the mind that I can assume responsibility for being without something that is necessary for my proper place on the earth. In other words, if it is proper to drive with a licence and I'm born without one, then I've been started-off in a deficient condition. That makes God not only culpable, but also capricious.

You also wrote: "Reason -- I guess it depends how you look at it."

No, it really doesn't. You're either reasoning or you're not. Reason is a very clear-cut function of the human mind. It's generally what people are reasoning through that is the dependent factor, not the fact of reason itself that is questionable.

justsomename said...

John 9: 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Is Jesus saying that agnosticism isn't so bad here?

Kane Augustus said...

Craig: Is there something morally wrong with agnosticism? Is it better to have faith and say you do know than to admit that you don't know?

I admit that I just don't see the angle you're approaching this subject from. Your first two explanations result in the same conclusion: people are inherently disabled, whether by imputation/inheritance or by omission. In either case, God is capricious.

Original sin, as has been described in history, renders God an unpredictable and stormy jerk who remains unmoved by the needless suffering of the condition he has created people with.

I therefore choose not to believe such rubbish.

Craig said...

I'm just starting to work through the concept here. I know that Malcolm Smith doesn't believe in original sin and I (think I) found his book "turn your back on the problem" super inspirational. I haven't read any of his other stuff because it's difficult to get as you mostly have to buy it online and I'm not that dedicated.
I probably won't gain any ground here but I'm going to think out loud for a second.
I'm a long time fan of Don Richardson's work -

Is it possible that we are born into a nation that is at war with God? The original sin being something like a nationality?
Suppose that God is like the Irish during the potato famine and humanity is like the English.
Is it possible in someway to see God as a victim of humanities sin? Are we members of a nation which has harmed God?

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

I don't believe in original sin: each sin I've committed has been done previously by thousands of people. :-)

Kane Augustus said...

Dr. V.! Thank you for your humorous contribution. You made me smile.

Stay tuned for another episode on Original Sin. I'm just finishing my essay, and will post it in 2 or 3 installments during this next week.

Take care,