The Origin Of The Original Sin
I spent years with really nasty thoughts about Old Testament and judaism for introducing a very ugly idea to humanity. The idea that we were all born with some kind of error. An error that we're not guilty for, that we inherited from our oldest predecessors. Yeah, I'm talking about the original sin.
But it's easy to say the ugly words about something. I had to learn that even the ugly ideas are worth exploring. I had to learn that original sin was not just babbling of crazy prophets in the desert. There is so much more to it.
You know the story. Adam and Eve lived happily in the Paradise. One day Eve offers the fruit, fruit that God explicitly forbade them to eat, to Adam. Adam eats it. God kicked them from Paradise. They became mortal. They have to work for food. Eve has to give birth in pain.
And the worst of all… all those ugly things are inherited by their ancestors, which is the whole human race. What a nasty god!
photo by Paul Hocksenar
Or better, what a nasty religion. Only a sick mind could base the whole religion, the whole worldview, on a premise that everybody is somehow bad, defect and sentenced on the pain by the mere birth. That everybody has to suffer because grand-grand-grand-parents screwed something with some fruit. Teach those things to generations and nothing good will come.
Things got only worse when the story, through christianity and islam, infected the large part of the humanity all over the world. The only major religion left, as it has no common premises with Abrahamic religions, was buddhism. But still, is buddhism completely free from the idea of original sin?
It isn't. Buddhism doesn't have the story of fruit and Paradise. But it states simply and based on introspection as it always does:
Life is suffering.
Truth to be told, the word "suffering" is not the exact translation of the original term dukkha. That translation is influenced by westerners infected by the idea of the original sin. Dukkha means discomfort, discontent and uneasiness. It's far from suffering under wrath of an angry all-powerful god, but it witnesses that something isn't just right.
Of course, different religions have different ways of dealing with the situation. Buddhism is about overcoming the bad start-point by individual effort, while christianity is based on one man's sacrifice that was supposed to even the debt with God and judaism is waiting for the world to end. But still, that suffer thing is a common place.
Let's put religions aside for a bit and take a look on something completely different: an evolution of Homo sapiens.
photo by Sarah Pillard
Some two million years ago in Africa, our distant ancestor Homo habilis, started scavenging the dead animals around. As the meat was introduced to the table, there was a lot more energy. And the body grew. Most importantly, the brain grew. Soon enough, it evolved all the way up to Homo ergaster and Homo erectus, hominids with even bigger brains, even better tools, who knew how to lit the fire and even started using the language. Not quite developed language, but not the screaming of apes in the trees either. Homo erectus was not a simple animal anymore. They've became intelligent.
That evolutionary step of early hominids wasn't all pretty. Intelligence is a nice thing to have, but it came with a price tag attached. Paradise is simply the state of mind of an animal. Animals do feel pain, but they don't experience the discomfort – dukkha – that we, humans, do. Animals don't portray the world in terms of good and evil. For them, the world simply is. Moving out from the world of animals meant getting kicked of the paradise the animals live in. And it still wasn't the whole price we had to pay.
Bigger brain needed bigger scull to fit into. Nasty consequence was that the birth became troublesome. The big scull caused pain and all kind of problems and complications of disproportional head going through the birth canal. In biblical words (Genesis 3,16):
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
Now the question is how something that happened a couple of million years ago made its way in the myths that finally made material for the Bible? Those guys that developed the Hebrew myths had no chance of knowing how early hominid's brain got bigger and how that affected the childbirth.
Is it possible that the actual story of what happened somehow survived in the depths of collective unconsciousness? Actually, it is possible. Homo ergaster had the language. It wasn't developed enough to pass the knowledge as a story, but it was enough to form a memory. And that memory, even more because it is based on very primitive language, was all it takes to affect thinking and wordview of generations to come.
Beside all that, you don't even need memory from Homo ergaster to connect the dots. Any women giving birth knows that it's the head that causes the pain. And from the earliest times we connect the head with knowledge.
Link between the myth and the episode in our evolution that caused it is present, even if we're not aware of it. Our step out of animal kingdom into the humanity, the growth of the brain and the achieved intellectual capabilities correlate with eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Except that it wasn't a fruit but a dead animal.