The second Eve

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception, dear readers.  Today, Catholics celebrate Mary’s having been preserved from original sin, which, as I indicate in my essay on that topic, was a blessing not only to her, but to all of us.

The other, more interesting objection is that original sin is unfair:  why should the rest of us be punished for what Adam and Eve did or failed to do?  Within the Christian belief system (the one in which the doctrine of the Fall plays the largest role), this can be naturally understood by seeing salvation as primarily a corporate rather than individual affair.  God draws all human beings in a state of grace together into a sort of spiritual organism in which each individual is a distinct organ; we were to see and love Him not separately, but together.  The attraction of this picture is that it gives God a way to connect people not only to Himself, but also to each other.  The drawback is that, by connecting all people in their assent toward God, when one person falls, he can pull others down with him.  We can sabotage each other not just naturally, e.g. through bad example, but also supernaturally through abdicating our roles in the operation of grace.  In this picture, Adam and Eve must have been essential “organs”, because the spiritual union of mankind couldn’t function without them.  Indeed, to fix up the situation, Christians believe that God had to create a new Adam (Jesus) and a new Eve (Mary).

Christianity (and, to a lesser extent, other theistic religions) has built up an impressive body of doctrine, mysticism, and speculation around the ideas of grace, deification, and the spiritual union of mankind.  It’s not the purpose of this essay to go into all that.  We can’t prove from pure reason that anybody has ever actually been in a state of grace.  (If we could, God’s gift of it would not be free.)  We can’t even take all the mystery out of the idea—nor should we expect to be able to do so.  It’s important to understand, though, that these doctrines are as rationally defensible as they ever were.

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