Further Thoughts on Original Sin

This seems so obvious now, but last night I failed to include it in my riff on original sin in a modern trapping. And it is this: original sin comes after knowledge of morality, not before it. In other words, morality is violated only after it is known.

But one can plausibly argue that this does not have to be, since the violation of morality came first when Adam and Eve disobeyed a direct order by God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I am inclined to agree, if I actually believed that divine command theory is a tenable ethical theory. But if you take it away, then where does that leave Adam and Eve? So to me, the first violation of morality is in acquiring knowledge of good and evil, of morality itself.

It is by knowing what is good and evil that people first bring about moral disobedience. Without this knowledge, hardly anything can be called “moral” or “immoral”. In other words, it is not the action alone that brings about a moral violation, but an action coupled with knowledge of what constitutes “moral” in a particular context that makes a moral violation conscious to the violator.

Hence, original sin cannot exist without Adam and Eve’s gaining knowledge of what sin is. Otherwise they are like children in that while they may commit immoral acts, they are in some sense not guilty because of their innocence and ignorance of morality. If I choose to view things this way, then it is definitely NOT the act of disobeying God’s order that is the source of original sin; rather, it is the knowledge of good and evil that is the source of original sin.

To me, such a conception is probably the only way to account for original sin in a secular manner, one that does not rely on the existence of any deity. Hence, all people still possess “original sin”, since in my last entry, I cast original sin as the complicity of all man in contributing to evils in the world that they find morally objectionable on a personal level. And this “original sin” is brought about precisely because people become aware of their complicity.

Self-consciousness, and consciousness of morality in general, is the real source of original sin. And it’s original precisely because human beings cannot become completely unconscious of morality. Thus, the myth of the garden of eden is not a myth that laments the loss of happiness embodied in the material and temporal existence of man in the garden, i.e., immortality, limitless food/drinks, etc. Rather, the myth of the garden of eden is really a lament about a pre-conscious, pre-moral mode of existence.

But unlike the Christian telling of the story, there is not even the possibility of redemption in this secular re-telling, since human existence will always be conscious moral beings who are aware of themselves as beings that are tied up to the world, and thus, also tied up to its evils.


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