Genesis 3: The concept of original sin:
Christian faith groups that believe/don't believe in in
"original sin" (Cont'd).
Some ethical problems with
sin." A modern-day parable.
Original sin: which faith groups believe in it and which rejects it? (Cont'd)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church deals thoroughly with the topic of original sin. They link the transmission of original sin from Adam (while ignoring the role of Eve) to the Roman Army torturing Jesus to death which they believe gave every person the opportunity to be saved:
Baptists generally deviate markedly from the Westminister Confession with regard to original sin. The Calvinistic Second London and Philadelphia confessions stress a person's "... actual sins rather than inherited guilt." 4
The ethical problem of personal vs. collective responsibility:
An ethical dilemma is posed by several parts of the Genesis 3 story: In most of the world's religious and secular ethical systems, a person
who commits a crime or who engages in sinful behavior must accept the full
responsibility for their act(s). If one person robs a bank, the police arrest the
person, not their father, their child, a neighbor, or a person down the street who happens to be of the same religion as the criminal, etc. If one man commits a criminal or
otherwise outrageous act, it is usually considered immoral to blame all males
for the actions of one person. Similarly, it is normally considered immoral to blame all persons
of the same nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. along with the person
who actually did the deed. In a just society, only the individual would be punished .
Yet, if we assume that Genesis 3 is an accurate description of a real event
in the Garden of Eden, then - according to some Christian interpretations of the passage -- we observe three profoundly unethical consequences
of the original parents, Adam and Eve, eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
- The sin of Eve
in disobeying God's command is imputed or transferred to her children,
her grand children and even to the entire present human population, some 240
generations removed. All are punished for Eve's sin, even though all were born after she ate the fruit.
- The similar sin of Adam is also imputed to all present day humans, some
6,000 years later.
Of considerably less concern to humans is that present-day snakes are allegedly being
punished for the actions of a single ancestor, circ 4004 BCE.
Imputation or transference of responsibility for a sinful or criminal act
from one person to a group of individuals appears unjust and irrational to most modern individuals who
live in a country where individual human rights are paramount. However, original sin is merely the first example of a scapegoating theme that runs throughout the Bible. There are numerous examples in the Bible which imply that it is OK to blame or punish an innocent person for the sins of a guilty person.
Some Christian faith groups who believe in original sin have attempted to explain the process of imputation
in a number of ways:
||Some suggest that it flows logically from the covenant that God made
with Adam as a representative of all humanity. Even though successive generations of humans did not give their consent to the covenant, they are considered still bound
According to the concept of "traducianism," Adam and his descendents
are one. Each human's soul is derived from the souls of their immediate parents. This implies that God only created one soul: Adams. Eve's soul and the souls of all of Adam and Eve's descendents were derived from Adam's. 5 Thus all people who have ever lived have shared Adam's soul and thereby his original sin. Paul support this belief when he wrote
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world,
and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have
Yet in spite of every effort by theologians, original sin seems to many people to be a really fundamental violation of natural justice.
A modern-day parable:
Author Paul Alan Laughlin, a liberal Christian, drew an analogy between the story of Genesis 3
and "a more
modern scenario." 7 The following parable is based on
A woman bakes a batch of cookies for a party. She warns her twins, aged 3, to
not eat any. She explained to them, deceitfully, that If they did, then she
would kill them. Not thinking things through carefully, she placed the cookies
on a table, easily accessible to the twins. A brother who was older, wiser and
more mature that the twins asked whether their mother had forbidden them to eat
anything in the house. The girl twin, Edna, said that mother had only forbidden
them to eat the cookies -- on pain of death. The older brother chuckled and told
his sister that parents did that a lot. He said: "Of course she wouldn't kill
you. She simply wants to deny you the pleasure of munching on the cookies. She
doesn't want to share the cookies. She wants to keep them all to herself."
Edna does exactly what any adult could predict: she eats one. Then, she
persuades her twin brother Albert to eat another.
The mother returns, not aware of the twin's disobedience. She notices crumbs
on the table and on the twins' lips. She correctly concludes that the twins have
eaten cookies. She flies into a rage, beats them, and throws them out of the
house to fend for themselves. She cuts them out of her will. She does all she
can to make the lives of any future descendents of the twins miserable.
An outside observer might wonder why the mother did not have the sense to
prevent the theft by putting the cookies out of reach of the twins. The observer
would probably consider her an abusive parent for treating her children so
harshly for simply doing what kids will naturally do. The observer might well
consider the mother's actions indefensible, because the children are barely out
of the toddler stage. They have no moral sense -- they cannot really
differentiate between right and wrong.
Laughlin concludes that in Genesis 3:
"We call this God 'just' and
'righteous' for putting temptation close at hand and punishing people who, in
their naive and childlike innocence, couldn't
have known any better than to do a deed that any deity (or human) with common
sense could have foreseen and prevented."
Webmaster's Comments: Bias alert!
Laughlin's parable talks about two toddlers, while Genesis 3 discusses Adam and Eve -- two adults. However the four people are morally comparable, because Genesis 3 implies that Adam and Eve were created without a moral sense -- with no knowledge of right or wrong -- just as toddlers largely lack such knowledge. Only gods had such knowledge at the time. It was only after the two ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that they developed a moral sense, and thus could be held responsible disobeying God. But he blamed them, and their billions of descendents, anyway.
I sometimes wonder what impact it would have had if passages in the Bible rigidly held perpetrators responsible for any wrongdoing, and condemned situations in which uninvolved, innocent people was blamed. Consider:
Human slavery: In the 19th century, many Christian pastors and theologians claimed that the enslavement of African Americans was just because of the "Curse of Ham." That referred to an undefined transgression by Ham -- one of Noah's sons. That led to the curse that Canaan -- Ham's son -- and all his descendents were destined to be slaves. 8 Somehow, for no obvious rational reason, Canaan's descendents became associated with Blacks. Strangely, the descendants of Ham's other sons were not held guilty for their grandfather's sin, nor was Ham himself -- the only perpetrator.
Islamophobia: Many people blame all Muslims for the terrorist attack by 19 Muslims fanatics at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and an unknown location in Washington DC. This has made life in America difficult for the vast majority of Muslims who reject violence as a method of changing society. Even worse, many Sikhs have been attacked on the basis that they look a lot like Muslims.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- St Augustine, "City of God," xiii. 3.
Phil Roberts, "Hereditary Total Depravity Pervades Denominationalism," Truth Magazine, 1987-JAN-01, at: http://www.truthmagazine.com/
"Catechism of the Catholic Church," The Roman Catholic Church, at: http://www.vatican.va/
Dr. Lemke, "Distinctive Baptist beliefs," SBC Today, 2011-AUG-25, at: http://sbctoday.com/
"Traducianism," Wikipedia, as on 2013-FEB-26, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
"Imputation - The connection of humanity to Adam and Eve,"
ChristianBeliefs.org, at: http://christianbeliefs.org/
Paul Laughlin, "Remedial Christianity: What every believer
should know about the faith, and probably doesn't," Polebridge Press, (2000),
Page 153. Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
Tony Evans, "Are Black People Cursed? The Curse of¬ Ham,"
Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2010-JAN-18, at: http://www.epm.org/
Copyright ¬© 2013 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-MAR-06
Latest update: 2018-MAR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson