So I was reading the CNN belief blog, as I am wont to do from time to time, and sifting through the various inane responses when I ran across some comments about original sin. I’m going to preface the rest of this by giving my opinion about original sin: it’s bullshit. Here’s why (and I won’t even touch on the idea that a child cannot be guilty of the sins of its ancestors):
God is supposed to be omniscient. In knowing everything, God most certainly would have known that Adam and Eve were going to go against his direct order not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, yet God put it there anyway. If you know something is going to happen if you set up certain circumstances, and then set up those circumstances regardless, you are at fault for making it happen. Say someone tells me that if they had a gun, they would go shoot someone. I then give them a gun, and they shoot someone. In what world am I not culpable?
Now, going against the dictates of God is a sin, right? As such, making someone go against the dictates of God is likewise a sin. Therefore, God, who caused man to go against his command, sinned against himself. Original sin is not a sin of man; it is a sin of God. By knowing exactly what the outcome would be, and putting everything in place necessary to cause that outcome, God is what made that outcome happen.
I went on and read from someone who tried to get around this fact by stating that it wasn’t the going against God that was the real problem; it was hiding from God and lying about what they had done. This ignores the omniscience of God again. God knows everything, because God created everything. The only things man knows are the things that God made available for man to know, and the concepts created by God. Lying would not exist had God not given man the capability to lie. The ideas of nakedness and shame from being naked would not exist had not God created those concepts. This leads right back to the same issue as before; God created concepts which he found offensive, gave his creation the ability to feel and act on those concepts, and then created an environment in which it was a given that man would gain knowledge of those concepts and then be guaranteed to act upon them. These are not the actions of a benevolent deity; they are downright sadistic. If God truly is benevolent, then the story of the fall of man and the very idea of original sin must not be entirely true as we have written and rewritten them over the past few thousand years.
I’ll be contradicting this in a moment, by the way.
So what is God, really? Most people accept that God gave man free will, and that God is an all-powerful, albeit benevolent being who generally wants good things for mankind. Benevolence and free will can both exist together – God doesn’t like the bad things that happen to humans, but does not interfere as that would put free will (arguably the greatest gift we were given) in jeopardy. That should be a relatively easy concept to swallow – after all, the American system of government was built around the idea of freedom.
All-powerful likewise can make sense. Just because someone doesn’t do something, doesn’t mean that person is incapable of doing it. Also, as a divine being, God (who having created everything would have created the laws that govern reality) would not have to be bound by those laws. Say I write part of a program that adds two numbers together and always reports that the sum is 1 greater than those numbers are. For all calculations made that involve adding two numbers, that program must add 1 to them. I am not bound by that same rule – I could choose not to add anything, to subtract, multiply, or anything else I choose. Think of God the same way. Now, there is an argument that if God is all-powerful, could a mountain be created that God could not lift. As God exists outside of the laws which govern the universe, this could be possible. Just because such a concept makes no logical sense to us and is beyond our capability to understand, doesn’t mean the same is true for God. By definition, an all-powerful being can do things we will never understand or even think of across our entire existence as a species. I will admit that I still have problems with the idea, but considering all of this I am willing to let that go and just accept that the omnipotent attribute of God is possible.
What God cannot be, if we accept the idea of free will, is omniscient. An omniscient being would know exactly what choices we are going to make. If those choices are set in stone to the point that they are known, then they are no longer choices. If I am guaranteed to take a left turn at the end of the block on a morning jog, where is my choice to do otherwise? If I am guaranteed to fail God’s test not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, how is it my fault? I had no choice, my action was decided before I had the opportunity to do it.
This leaves us a few possibilities for God:
God can be omnipotent and omniscient, in which case there is no free will and God most certainly is not benevolent.
God can be omnipotent and benevolent and allows free will, in which case God most certainly is not omniscient.
God is omniscient and benevolent but not omnipotent, which means God can be forced to take certain actions, implying something more powerful than God.
I’m inclined to think of God as the second option, if God exists as we believe at all. A benevolent being that values free will would interfere with us as little as possible – we would need to be able to make mistakes, to help and to hurt, to love and to hate, to live. I believe that as a benevolent being, the negative things we do would sadden God, while the good things we do would give God great joy. I also believe that God would understand what we are capable of without knowing completely what we are going to do (hence free will). I think that God would want us to learn from both the good and bad things we do, and that there will be some kind of reckoning when we are done – whether that be reincarnation into a better or worse life, or some sort of penance to help undo some of the damage we caused during our lives.
I don’t think God works in mysterious ways. I don’t think getting involved in our lives is a part of the plan. I think God, if God exists as we believe, merely watches all of creation, sees what it does, learns, loves, and lives with us without ever putting our free will at risk. Good parents are like that – we want our children to grow up and go out into the world and make their own choices, for better or for worse (admittedly preferably better, but many parents would love their children through a great many evils), and make their way in the world and have a better life than we did. Honestly, I think the best parents would love their children no matter what. You can disagree with what they do, but in the end they are still your children. That’s how I think God is… or at least should be.