Original sin

Sin, therefore, can only take place where there is some recognition of true values.  On the other hand, men are prone to sin because this recognition is so dim in us, so easily put out of mind.  Consider another case.  Suppose a man who loves his wife at least somewhat receives news that she has been killed in an airplane crash.  Then he finds out that the report is wrong—his wife is waiting safely for him at the airport.  In his intense relief, the husband is at that moment acutely conscious of his wife as a unique, precious, and irreplaceable person.  The special intuition provided by love of the incommensurable value of this particular person—his wife—is fully active in him.  At this moment, it is inconceivable to the husband that he would ever be unfaithful to his wife.  If Aphrodite herself were to appear naked and throw herself upon him, he would not be stirred in the least.  At least for a moment, he has lost the ability to sin in one particular way.  Is it because love has somehow sapped away his freedom?  Quite the contrary—love has rather awakened him to see things as they really are.  One thus awakened to the preciousness of his wife would never be unfaithful, just as a man without a blindfold would never walk off a cliff.  A man deadened to love may stray, just as a blindfolded man may fall off a cliff, but this hardly makes such pitiful men more free.  One should rather say the reverse, because the latter men only act as they do because they don’t fully know what they’re doing.

Each of us lives in a moral stupor, a state of being only half-aware.  Even though we have flashes of insight into the preciousness of our loved ones, they don’t last.  We fall back into insensibility and petty selfishness.  As for those outside our small circle of intimates, we never truly appreciate their value and beauty at all, because only love makes such perception possible.  Most of us don’t perform spectacular evils like adultery, but we behave selfishly in smaller ways, in our words and our thoughts.  Most often, our sins are sins of omission—like Dives we fail to even take notice of the suffering we might easily assuage.  Dives was a man who sleepwalked through life; every day he saw Lazarus, but he never really registered him in his mind.  He never saw that Lazarus as someone who it was his responsibility to help.  He never consciously chose to ignore a duty, and he was genuinely surprised to find himself one day in hell.  Sin he did, though, and so do we all.  We too sleepwalk through life, using and ignoring our fellow men, sinning dozens of times each day without even realizing it.  Indeed, one might almost say that we are in the worst possible state—with only enough awareness to be culpable and not enough to be good.  Unlike any other animal, human nature seems to condemn itself:  we naturally make demands on ourselves that it’s naturally impossible for us to fulfill.

Man’s alienation from God

In religion, too, human nature seems to overstep itself.  The existence of a perfect, self-subsistent Creator is implied by creation, and no culture has failed to attain the idea of God.  But although we can infer God’s existence, we cannot truly comprehend the divine nature—what it means to be atemporal, utterly simple, pure act, etc.  Of course, the other animals don’t comprehend God’s nature either, but they have no sense of this gap in their knowledge.  Unlike them, man knows that he doesn’t comprehend the most basic principle of the universe.  As Pascal put it

What can be seen on earth indicates neither the total absence, nor the manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a hidden God.  Everything bears this stamp…

He must not see nothing at all, nor must he see enough to think that he possesses God, but he must see enough to know that he has lost him.  For, to know that one has lost something one must see and not see:  such precisely is the state of nature.

–Pensee 449

3 Responses

  1. […] 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 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: