Ethics and the Third Person -- the broken inheritance

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding Chapter 45, can be found here.]

[This entry starts Chapter 46, "The Children of the First Sinners".]

I have argued that recorded history--even the history recorded by people who do not follow my own tradition--indicates that the tendency to act intransigently, in willful rebellion against what we perceive to be true, has been a perennial characteristic of our species. Because God would not have created us automatically in rebellion against Him (or against as much of Him as we could perceive), then our progenitors must have fallen into this state; and I think I can argue that the number of these progenitors must have been small, and the percentage of 'fallens' within that number must have been large: for the whole human race, as it stands now and as it has stood throughout history, exhibits the characteristics of sinful rebellion.

[Footnote: I am not arguing this from the worldwide prevalence of stories that suggest humankind was once in a better relationship with God, heaven, Nature, and/or each other, but have since 'fallen'. These could, I suppose, be explained as the result of an innate human resistance to our actual state of being. (The Fall must be only a fable, because so many cultures seem to remember it??) Even so, such a resistance is interesting. In fact, any 'resistance' to what would otherwise be considered a 'natural' situation, is significant. At any rate, having arrived at this conclusion on other grounds, I do pause here to acknowledge the existence of such stories.]

Such a rebellion would have changed the synthetic shape of the original sinners--the shape synthesized by God out of a combination of His own intentive actions and the mediation of a neutral 'playing-field' of reactive Nature, itself also actively created and upkept by God. This synthetic shape would have been linked interconnectedly between spirit and body; and consequences to the relationship between that unity of spirit and body would have followed from rebellion. This degradation of our physical and mental status would have been allowed by God in order to minimize the abuses of power which would follow from the rebellion--abuses God would restrict insofar as possible while still fulfilling both love and justice to the sinners.

The Unity of God's own transPersonal self-existent love and justice, entails that God shall choose to act eternally to fulfill love and justice even to His enemies--and this concept has massive implications for any subsequent theological conclusions I will (and ought to) draw.

But one of the more unsettling implications faces me now.

These original sinners, having rebelled against God, would find themselves existing as, in effect, a new species--perhaps related to prior species from which they had been previously raised (if that was how God accomplished their creation), but still distinctly different as derivatively active entities from those close relatives. [See first comment below for an extended footnote here.] Yet they would also be distinctly different from the sort of entities they had been before the 'Fall'. As creatures in a created unity between active spirit and reactive matter, that unity would still hold: for they would still be derivatively active (and thus personal) creatures, yet also would still occupy the space and time of material Nature.

The relationship of this derivative unity of ours to physical Nature, to matter and energy, results in a physical shape to the organ through which the unity is most acutely focused: our brains. Our fall as a species would have consequences for that shape. Yet what contributes, physically speaking, to the shape of our brains?

We know now that the chemicals of our genetic code serve this function. New cells replace or grow onto other cells throughout our natural life, even in our brains, according to processes governed at least in part by the constituent 'shape' of that genetic code.

The change of the synthetic shape at the moment of the first rebellion would therefore entail a corresponding change, either directly or indirectly by God's will, in the functionality of our genetic code, so that our unity as a living and efficiently functional organism would be preserved. (The change might be progressive over a lifetime, or even over successive generations; but there would also be an immediate change somewhere that would make the crucial difference.)

Also, such a pervasive change would be a signal even to the most stubborn of original sinners, that something drastically wrong had occurred--something that could be compared to an ideal state--something that needed to be corrected for their own good.

But whatever affects our genetic code, also affects our children.

The natural result would be that if these original sinners began to breed, they would produce more creatures of their new sort--creatures with a synthetic shape twisted by the choices of the first progenitors.

This, I repeat, would be the natural result. But speaking only of the natural consequence leaves the actions and choices of God out of the account. The next question is: would God allow this to happen?

In a way, the answer to this question is obvious: for here I am, a creature of this type who inhabits a world filled with similar creatures.

Given this, and given that I have already decided that God exists and has certain relationships to the natural universe, then I conclude that God clearly would allow the results of the 'sin of Adam' to be passed on to future generations.

But a recognition that this in fact has happened, does not of itself explain why God let it happen.

Some people may be satisfied with the mere idea that God let it happen, and so we should not bother ourselves further with questions about it. I would reply that this attitude hardly reflects a personal relationship with God as a Person.

Other people may say that since God has let it happen, He must have had a good reason, and since they trust Him in other regards, they are willing to trust Him here, too. I think this attitude is very much better! Yet I also think it still falls short of the mark. To honestly wonder why, and to seriously want an answer, and to not have an answer yet, is one thing. But to give up wanting to know why, as a choice on our part--even as a choice apparently based on a real trust in God--is to set aside our share of the responsibility in maintaining a personal relationship with God.

Such a closing of the eyes is, instead, a sign of a lack of faith in God: it is a sign that we do not trust God to do His part in relating to us. To wait patiently, keeping an eye out for solutions to a problem, with all resources at our disposal, ready to act and searching for light meanwhile, is to have an active faith in God as a Person. To shut our minds to problems because, deep down, we do not ever expect an intelligible answer, is to believe that God does not care what we think about Him.

"We shall understand by and by" has long been stripped of its meaning in merely 'popular' theology, and a totally opposite meaning has been perversely grafted to the phrase: it now effectively means, to many Christians, that we shall never understand--therefore, we ought not to look now. And it is just as faithless to maintain that we ought not to expect any worthwhile or useful answer until we reach 'heaven'--for that attitude reinforces a tendency to be lazy servants here and now.

In some ways, the sceptical unbeliever can represent a most faithfully prudent attitude: for such a sceptic may detect a discrepancy in the love and justice of God, and so may refuse to follow or sanction a belief in such a deity.

"How could God let that happen!?" such a sceptic demands, with a righteousness that is faithful to God in truth, while others who claim to have faith in God dare to be content with the vague suspicion--or worse, the outright claim!--that the God Whom they follow is not just!

Let me therefore face directly the implications of my own existence, as a person who was born with the mark of the sin of Adam.

Could God have prevented the children of the original sinners from being born in a 'twisted' shape?

I see no intrinsic contradiction to this proposal, so I conclude: yes, He could have--either through sheer miraculous power, or else by forbidding, through decree or through exercise of power, that the original sinners should have children. Similarly, He could have prevented me from being born in this condition: the condition of being a 'fallen man'.

So why would God have allowed fallen humans to be fruitful, and to multiply? If my own tradition has accuracy, why would God even command us to multiply our numbers, and yet not fix the problem from the outset?

That God could not 'fix' Adam and Eve (the original rebels of our species, although technically they need not have been only two in number) through a sheer act of His power, I have already deduced; for their problems stemmed from willed actions of their own, and their cure would require their own active repentance--a 'change of mind' which itself would be hampered by the change they had already effected in themselves by their rebellion. But as for their children, from 'Cain and Abel' down to you and I: none of us chose to be in this condition from our birth.

Let me remind my reader that I confess myself to be a willing sinner--I know I have made choices to flout love, justice, and other characteristics of ultimate reality, in favor of my own wishes at the expense of people. Insofar as that goes, I am no better than the original sinners, whether they are human Adams and Eves or the archangel Lucifer.

But that type of perversion is not what I am discussing here. I want to know why God allowed the sin of our human progenitors to affect the rest of us consequentially, in our bodies and in the relationship of our bodies to our minds.

As usual, if I speculate as though these original people existed in a historical vacuum, then I do not know if I could ever find an appropriate answer. But when I remember, that whatever perversions I may have been saddled with I am still a willing sinner also, then I have a standard by which to proceed.

Let me turn my question back upon my own head, then. Why is it that other people suffer thanks to my sin? Why does God not negate the harmful, baneful results of my own actions, sparing those who find themselves standing in the paths of effect?

(I remind my reader that the relative innocuousness of my own sins, makes no difference to the principle which I am considering here. So far as the direct fact of my active rebellion goes, I am no better off than people like Hitler.)

[Next up: we the unjust, beloved by God!]


Jason Pratt said…
One of my footnotes was too long to put in the center of a paragraph, so I'm porting it here:

Technically, a species is distinguished by its lack of breeding with other creature-groups, although two species of the same genus could theoretically produce viable offspring. In this case, I don't know whether the fallen or unfallen humans could or could not breed with any other similar creatures from which they may have been raised--or even whether they were raised from a previously existent creature-group at all! The face-value meaning of my own scriptural tradition is somewhat confusing on this point; even if we were raised directly from mud, there is some question about whether the first such humans are interbreeding with each other in the story, or whether they are interbreeding with other similar creatures. Fortunately, I can set such questions aside for the purposes of this book.

(Although I will also say that I become humorously annoyed at direct creationists who rhetorically complain about how under evolutionary theory we were all raised from slime. Oh, no, of course not, we were raised from clean dirt! Slime, dirt, I'm good with it either way...)

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