Ktismatics

7 December 2007

Original Sin Reinterpreted

Filed under: Genesis 1, Psychology — ktismatics @ 5:20 pm

Here’s a brief interruption in the Empire series… Awhile back I mentioned that I was launching a series of posts at Open Source Theology exploring what would happen to the rest of the Bible if the creation narratives from Genesis 1-3 were simply deleted. I’m getting close to the end of this project, which will be sort of a relief: other than my friend Sam, hardly anyone has engaged in discussion other than to tell me that my whole project is ill-conceived. Today I wrote a piece about original sin, which might be of interest both to the Christians and to the Lacanians who happen to show up here.

Nothing in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve suggests that Adam’s sin somehow infected all of his descendants. They were banned from the Garden and its Tree of Life, which would have granted them immortality, but in the Genesis creation narratives mortality is the natural human condition. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul goes so far as to say that the natural, mortal human body has a kind of “glory” to it.

Nothing in God’s curses on Adam and Eve suggest that he’ll cause them or their progeny to be more prone to sin than would naturally be the case. In the very next chapter Yahweh poses this question to Cain: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” or perhaps “will you not be accepted?” (Gen 4:7) By this question isn’t Yahweh saying that it’s possible for Cain, son of Adam, to do well? To the best of my knowledge, nowhere else in the Old Testament is there any suggestion that Adam’s sin was passed on to his descendants. Jewish theology has no concept of original sin. I’m not sure to what extent the early Christians believed in original sin. Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin that came to dominate Christian thought from the Middle Ages on. The Protestant reformers also subscribed to Augustine’s formulation. What about in the New Testament? Again as far as I can tell, Romans 5 is the only NT text to suggest the idea that Adam’s original sin caused the sinfulness of his descendants. Here’s the one verse that’s hard to account for:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many were made righteous (Romans 5:19).

That sure sounds like original sin to me. Is there a straight reading of this verse that doesn’t turn into the historic Christian doctrine of original sin, whereby everyone inherits a sinful nature from Adam? Here’s a stab at it…

In Romans as elsewhere Paul addresses what is arguably his main theme: justification by faith. It is in this context that Paul talks about the law. Not only are people incapable of following the law — the law itself has no power to bring justification. Even worse and paradoxically so, the law makes one aware of one’s sinfulness rather than removing that awareness.

Paul summarizes his justification-by-faith argument in the first eleven verses of Romans 5, at which point he moves into an extended comparison between Adam and Christ. Therefore, Paul begins verse 12, signaling that the analogy is going to be relevant to his larger justification-by-faith argument — Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin… This “one man” isn’t named here, but he is two verses later: it’s Adam. But how can Paul say that Adam sinned if it’s through law that we become aware of our sinfulness? Paul highlights this dilemma in verse 13: for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Clearly, though, sin was imputed to “the one man,” to Adam. For his sin Adam was condemned to death, and death reigned from Adam to Moses (v. 14) — in other words, death reigned during the entire pre-Law era. It would seem, then, that Adam must have acted in the context of some sort of law, even if it wasn’t THE Mosaic Law.

Later in Romans Paul outlines the intrinsic link between law and sin. The law doesn’t just create an awareness of having already broken the law; it actually stimulates the desire to break the law:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Romans 7:7-8)

So, Adam is in the Garden and God tells him not to eat from one particular tree. This is God’s only rule as far as we’re told, but it’s enough to produce the very desire it prohibits. The fruit looks tasty, it will make me wise — I’m having a bite! Man was created good and the law was good; it was the interaction of human nature with the law that went badly. Paul says that it always goes badly.

Let’s say that Adam and Eve really did acquire the knowledge they sought in the Garden. In fact, Yahweh says they did in Genesis 2:22: Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil. It’s possible that the desire to be like the lawgiver is the motivation behind lots of sins, maybe even all sin. When God says “Don’t eat from that tree” He also means “Only I am allowed to eat from that tree.” The person who’s told not to eat admires the lawgiver, wants to become like the lawgiver, wants therefore to do precisely what the lawgiver told him or her NOT to do. It’s a sad story really.

This knowledge of good and evil can be expressed in the form of laws: you should do this, you shouldn’t do that. No other animal besides man is possessed of such knowledge. Babies aren’t born with this knowledge, but they begin learning it in infancy, and once they learn it they can never unlearn it. This knowledge, says Paul, is a mixed blessing: knowing the good produces both an awareness of having already done wrong and a desire to continue doing wrong. Human nature is good, and the law is good, but human knowledge of law establishes the preconditions from which sin invariably emerges.

Adam and Eve learned good and evil, and they could never forget it, never again escape both the self-awareness of sin and the desire to sin that’s stimulated by knowing the law. The first parents almost surely conveyed this knowledge to their children. Do this; don’t do that — it’s hard to imagine being a parent without laying down the law. Still, there must have been a particular time when humans moved beyond the instinctive stimulus-response, action-reaction style of non-sentient animals. In so doing, in teaching law to their children, parents transmit the preconditions that, says Paul, invariably generate sin in their children.

Okay, back to the problem verse: For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… This interpretation could work, couldn’t it? Adam and Eve learned good and evil, which can be expressed as law. Knowing law creates awareness of having broken law and stimulates desire to break law some more. Once this knowledge enters human awareness it never goes away. And it’s exactly the kind of knowledge that parents almost immediately impart to their children. Paradoxically, by laying down the law to their children, parents become the conduits of sinfulness to their children. There’s no biological inheritance of a sinful nature; it’s just the way things invariably go when humans acquire the knowledge of good and evil.

Here’s how Romans 5 wraps up:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:19-21)

Paul finishes the parallel between Adam and Jesus by giving his readers a foretaste of the Law-sin connection he elaborates in chapter 7. Adam and his descendants experienced this fateful connection on a small scale; the Jews under THE Law got a full dose. Christ breaks the Law-sin connection that began with Adam and intensified via Moses.

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35 Comments »

  1. So in Lacanese, language is EVIL. But isn’t the real question, one that started our codependent relationship, dad: can we do without the Law. How does it come to be that we accept it. Where does language come from? Is it an alien virus? By now I’m ready to hear some proposals from Deleuzians, other than Orgone energy, Primal Scream therapy and bioenergy.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 7 December 2007 @ 6:17 pm

  2. Not evil necessarily, but a precondition for the inevitable emergence of evil. If the Lawgiver knows this inevitability then he’s complicit. But in the Garden of Eden story God already knows Good and Evil — perhaps He already ate from the tree himself. Ah but these are speculations that go beyond the text — enjoyable, but I’ve conscientiously stuck to the hard discipline of LITERAL readings of these Biblical texts. In Eden we see the beginning of Law stimulating desire, with the fruit of the tree being le petit objet a, and the text almost spells it all out for us in Lacanian terms. This sense that the trajectories generated by human nature CROSS the territorialization of the Law and as a result sin EMERGES IMMANENTLY from the interaction — I think there’s a Deleuzian feel to that story.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 December 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  3. Paul is looking for some way to shake folks out of their faith in and dependence on ‘the law’. Here, Adam’s sinning is being highlighted precisely because of the contrast with those that came in the interim, who did not have a law, and strangely but consistently, Paul says that though they too inherit death, sin does not reign in death as it certainly does after the law again enters the picture with Moses. The law has the paradoxical effect of multiplying sin. Sin becomes active, while before this it was a passive thing that the occasional righteous person could win over – perhaps like Abraham or Noah?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 7 December 2007 @ 7:40 pm

  4. It seems that winning over sin is always a temporary thing — Abraham kept sort of whoring out his wife to whoever was the ruler to be feared, pretending that she was his sister; Noah’s nakedness somehow upset his sons, and it’s not clear whether this too was a sin. I’m not sure about sin reigning in death, though I agree that it intensifies — is there a reference, or is this your interpretation of the effect of the Law? I certainly haven’t played this idea out through all Paul’s letters — that would be an interesting challenge.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 December 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  5. Which brings is to a truly delicious topic, what is sin? From today’s perspective, Abraham’s behaviour was quite sick and certainly very cowardly. We are told that in context it was probably par for the course in those days, and Sarah doesn’t seem to have minded all that much anyway. One could generalise that the greatest of biblical heroes all seem to have had extra doses of caddishness also thrown in and we hardly bat an eye!

    But getting back to your point, what I hear (wishful thinking?) from Paul here is that when he says ‘death reigns’ I think he means that death intrudes into life itself. The contrast is with fullness and being a new creation in Christ, but if you insist on embracing the sin multiplying effects of being under ‘the law’ then you are choosing a living death.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 8 December 2007 @ 10:57 am

  6. I haven’t studied this at all so these are just musings and probably rationalisations based on nothing much really – but it would be a fascinating study in itself – perhaps at OST?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 8 December 2007 @ 11:01 am

  7. “I think he means that death intrudes into life itself.”

    Now you’re getting metaphorical on me, Sam. You’re right, but I presume Paul is also referring to the idea of annihilation, that death is the end for all humans unless something miraculous happens to them. That awareness does have a tendency to intrude — Heidegger contends that without that awareness life isn’t authentic.

    Nix on OST, I’m shaking the dust off my feet as soon as I finish the Thought Experiments post. I might have something to say about Romans 1 and a bit from Hebrews, at which point I’ll have covered all the NT verses I know of that refer to the creation narratives.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 December 2007 @ 11:26 am

  8. Ktismatics:
    Jewish theology has no concept of original sin. I’m not sure to what extent the early Christians believed in original sin. Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin that came to dominate Christian thought from the Middle Ages on. The Protestant reformers also subscribed to Augustine’s formulation. What about in the New Testament? Again as far as I can tell, Romans 5 is the only NT text to suggest the idea that Adam’s original sin caused the sinfulness of his descendants. Here’s the one verse that’s hard to account for.

    Right. The New Testament understanding of so-called “original sin” is read into Genesis.

    The Pelagians, Socinians, and Unitarians deny the doctrine of “original sin.” However, as far as I can tell, they lack a substantive account of how sin or evil can continually regenerate itself afresh in each generation. The Augustinian and Calvinist offer a solution to this problem: We are all born into sin. It has all the charm of simplicity, and as such it seems to be the preferred solution for the religious, in some form or another. (There are various Arminian and Semi-Pelagian twists and variants of the “born in to sin” idea.)

    This knowledge, says Paul, is a mixed blessing: knowing the good produces both an awareness of having already done wrong and a desire to continue doing wrong. Human nature is good, and the law is good, but human knowledge of law establishes the preconditions from which sin invariably emerges.

    This seems to be something of a deconstruction: Laws, as the very conditions of our existence as good humans, but they are also the seeds of the undoing of our goodness.

    Your Thesis:
    Knowing law creates awareness of having broken law and stimulates desire to break law some more. Once this knowledge enters human awareness it never goes away. And it’s exactly the kind of knowledge that parents almost immediately impart to their children. Paradoxically, by laying down the law to their children, parents become the conduits of sinfulness to their children. There’s no biological inheritance of a sinful nature; it’s just the way things invariably go when humans acquire the knowledge of good and evil.

    As far as I can tell this is doable.

    Question: Does this mean that we are by nature lawbreakers?

    If so, then where does the lawbreaking tendency originate from? Is it passed on through the parents???? Or is it just a tendency of being a human being. That is where I am a bit fuzzy. If lawbreaking is inherited and we all possess the tendency to despise the law and the lawgiver–and we all want to supplant the lawgiver, the Big Other–then where do we get said tendencies? This might lead us back to Augustine via Lacan.

    If you would suggest that we are not at war with law, then why do we have such aversion to it? Is it at odds with our desire to be freely determining beings?

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 8 December 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  9. I posted (rather clumsily) without having read Parody’s comment and your response, which go more directly to my concern.

    Parody: So in Lacanese, language is EVIL. But isn’t the real question, one that started our codependent relationship, dad: can we do without the Law. How does it come to be that we accept it. Where does language come from? Is it an alien virus?

    You reply: Not evil necessarily, but a precondition for the inevitable emergence of evil. If the Lawgiver knows this inevitability then he’s complicit.

    Is the point of your post on Original Sin here not so much to deny the inherent nature of lawbreaking, but more to deny that lawbreaking is “sin”? Or perhaps you are suggesting that the Lawgiver shares responsibility. If the Lawgiver shares responsibility, then how can we call it either “original” or “sin”?

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 8 December 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  10. Also, in your comment, I don’t know that you directly answered whether we can do without law. I would guess, though, that your answer is “no.”

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 8 December 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  11. A discussion of sin is incomplete without a discussion of redemption. In God’s economy, mercy triumphs over justice. A pre-sin or ab-sin consciousness would be a dystopia of lawlessness, not for the sake of lack of law, but for lack of redemption from “the law of sin and death”.

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    Comment by "Ron" — 8 December 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  12. Glad you could make it, Mr. Danger.

    “Laws, as the very conditions of our existence as good humans, but they are also the seeds of the undoing of our goodness.”

    Right. Or maybe this: law isn’t a very good means of bringing out our goodness.

    “Does this mean that we are by nature lawbreakers?”

    Yes. We wouldn’t be lawbreakers if there was no law to break, but we’re naturally drawn to knowing — and breaking — law. Though the other question is this: if we didn’t know good and evil could we do good? Are we also natural law-doers?

    “where does the lawbreaking tendency originate from? Is it passed on through the parents???? Or is it just a tendency of being a human being.”

    We aren’t born knowing law, so we aren’t born lawbreakers. We learn law from our parents, just as we learn language and all the other distinctive features of being human. We aren’t born language-users either, and you couldn’t really say we’re natural language-users until language started getting used. Like we aren’t natural TV-watchers or shoppers or any other cultural behavior. Children who are never socialized never learn law, but they never become fully human either.

    “Is the point of your post on Original Sin here not so much to deny the inherent nature of lawbreaking, but more to deny that lawbreaking is “sin”?”

    Not at all — that would be a different reality from the Pauline one. I’m staying strictly inside the NT confines here, or at least I’m trying to. The only issue is how this tendency to sin can pass from generation to generation without it being somehow inherited biologically or installed separately into everyone as a “curse.”

    “Or perhaps you are suggesting that the Lawgiver shares responsibility.”

    Paul says in Romans 7 that we wouldn’t know sin without law, and that we wouldn’t covet if the law said not to covet. So this complicity is there in Paul, in his own words. But he says the law is good. It’s the interaction of man and law, of being similar already to God but desirous of being even more like God. We believe that what is prohibited is reserved for God — don’t eat from that tree, don’t touch the hot stove, etc. — and because we admire God we believe that if we do these prohibited behaviors we will become more like the one we admire. But there’s really nothing different the lawgiver can do either, since these laws are “for our own good.” But no justification is possible from this law-giving, law-breaking, law-following: it’s a morality for children and slaves, as Paul says in Galatians. The law is useful for awhile, but it’s inherently limited and not useful for the mature human being.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 December 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  13. We needn’t be shy to admit that we enjoy this progression from law to liberty.

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    Comment by "Ron" — 8 December 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  14. Innocence is overrated. Experience = maturity.

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    Comment by "Ron" — 8 December 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  15. “A pre-sin or ab-sin consciousness would be a dystopia of lawlessness, not for the sake of lack of law, but for lack of redemption from “the law of sin and death”.”

    It’s hard to know, given that law is always already with us. Animals don’t have law and they don’t occupy a dystopia of lawlessness. Some other variant of human existence might have happened if law had never entered into the culture. And Paul is insistent that Christians are “dead to the law.” People wouldn’t have to die to law if law wasn’t alive in the first place, and according to Paul law came into human culture through Adam’s sin.

    “We needn’t be shy to admit that we enjoy this progression from law to liberty… Innocence is overrated. Experience = maturity.”

    Very nicely put, Ron.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 December 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  16. K: the other question is this: if we didn’t know good and evil could we do good? Are we also natural law-doers?

    Good point. Then you say (see below) that law, like language, is taught to us. It is a necessary element. Our parents teach us law.

    K: We aren’t born knowing law, so we aren’t born lawbreakers. We learn law from our parents, just as we learn language and all the other distinctive features of being human. We aren’t born language-users either, and you couldn’t really say we’re natural language-users until language started getting used. Like we aren’t natural TV-watchers or shoppers or any other cultural behavior. Children who are never socialized never learn law, but they never become fully human either.

    Wouldn’t we say, however, that it is more difficult to teach children to obey law than to disobey law??? Perhaps this tendency depends upon the child. We say that some children are “little hellians” or “strong willed”–they naturally seem to want to cross every line that is drawn and break every rule that is established. Other personalities are more compliant. The commonality, as you suggest, is that the parent lays down the law (“don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t look, etc.”) and then imposes the expectation of obedience. From there the response varies, depending upon the child. But it seems as though (from what you are saying) that we all have a desire to have what we cannot have, and that this desire is one of the things that makes us human.

    The difficulty of being human, then, as Qohelet says is that “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” (1:8) Once we transgress law we find that it does not deliver on the satisfaction that we had imagined. Ultimately we need to continue to transgress and transgress–we begin to need the law and crave the law for sake of having something to break. So, maybe with no moral stipulations against sex, a couple will forgo intercourse just to build up the sense of transgression and to put pressure on themselves (completely self imposed) for the sole purpose of having a sexual law to transgress, making the sex all that much better. Or perhaps a married couple will fantasize together that they are complete strangers having a one night fling. Whatever it takes to transgress.

    There is also something further in regard to learning law. As I suggested to you through email, those who are Christians seem to be greater sinners because we build stringent norms (spoken or nonspoken) into our church communities. But adding these laws just increases our inherent desire and ultimately this is our very undoing. All churches practice some form of legalism to control the sheep. But this just plants the seeds of their own undoing.

    Paul says “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” His freedom is radical and lawless. When I suggested this in a church setting several weeks back it was met with skepticism. “Freedom” for Christians usually translates into “freedom to live by the rules.” But it really is true: A Christian “lives by the Spirit” and lives “in Christ.” Rules are abolished. Law has been put to death, nailed upon the tree. Undone by one who kept the law and redeemed humanity through sacrifice. It is a truly incredible perspective, and one that I don’t think I fully thought through until interacting with you via your blog and email. However, you, John, have helped me to become a better Christian. Our churches can’t teach this stuff because we create our religion for the masses, and the masses need Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor:
    “You did not come down because, again, you did not want to enslave man by a miracle and thirsted for faith that is free, not miraculous….We corrected your deed and based in on miracle, mystery, and authority. And mankind rejoiced that they were once more led like sheep, and that at last such a terrible gift, which had brought them so much suffering, had been taken from their hearts. Tell me, were we right in teaching and doing so? Have we not, indeed, loved mankind, in so humbly recognizing their impotence, in so lovingly alleviating their burden and allowing their feeble nature even to sin, with our permission?”

    K: But no justification is possible from this law-giving, law-breaking, law-following: it’s a morality for children and slaves, as Paul says in Galatians. The law is useful for awhile, but it’s inherently limited and not useful for the mature human being.

    And, of course, if you are going to be truly Pauline, then you have to add the Spirit/Christ element. “Not I but Christ who lives within me.” “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

    Sorry to be so long. If we had Parody here to get straight to the point, then it wouldn’t be necessary for me to be so long winded!

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 8 December 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  17. “Wouldn’t we say, however, that it is more difficult to teach children to obey law than to disobey law???”

    A lot of parents say so, but I think they get into battles of will with their kids just as the kids do with their parents. I suspect you’ve had occasion to see parents act meanly toward their kids, seemingly just because they can. The kids get pissed at the parents, the parents at the kids, and so on — if you were more secularly minded you might see the same dynamic at work in the Old Testament, but that’s a distraction. In my parenting experience it really wasn’t necessary to lay down the law very often, either because our kid had good sense or because we could find some other way of distracting her. Really, laying down the law is often an act of frustration that usually results in bad feelings both ways.

    “Not I but Christ who lives within me.” “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

    Right — what those things mean is puzzling too, wouldn’t you say. I’m pleased you carried on so long. At Open Source Theology I’ve gotten virtually no comments — except for Sam — on a whole long string of posts over the last month. I had to call you in to pep me up, make me feel like somebody was paying attention. So thanks for engaging, Mr. Danger.

    “However, you, John, have helped me to become a better Christian.”

    I could make a sarcastic remark, but instead I’ll just say thanks for the thought — I mean it, too. I like the Dostoevsky quote.

    Regarding sexual transgression, the empirical evidence shows that abstinence programs are less effective at delaying onset of sexual activity than are sex education programs. If there were no moral laws about marriage it would be interesting to see what would develop spontaneously. I doubt it would be any more promiscuous than it is anyway.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 December 2007 @ 11:04 pm

  18. “I doubt it would be any more promiscuous than it is anyway.”

    The way society should use ‘law’ is more to control the extremes which by consensus really do endanger, rather than to regulate the middle ground. Promiscuity probably would not materially change much and may even be reduced if all cultural restrictions were withdrawn.

    One trend in postmodernity is to be less threatened by those ‘tailing edges’ on either end of the bell shaped curve that is ‘normal’. Innovation and even the future of society can creep in from these ‘edges’.

    I don’t know how many of Ktismatics readers are enamoured of the rock stars of yesteryear but a case in point is the recent Clapton autobiography. Tales of London culture in the 60s demonstrate how dangerous unregulated drug culture (including alcoholism) can be, but the lack of sexual mores does not seem to have had any terrible consequences in and of itself. What would the world be like without Layla, Bell Bottom Blues, and Wonderful Tonight?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 9 December 2007 @ 12:46 am

  19. K:
    I could make a sarcastic remark, but instead I’ll just say thanks for the thought — I mean it, too. I like the Dostoevsky quote.

    These are always psychologically interesting comments. When someone says this to me in person, I usually pry: What sarcastic remark? Oh, come on, tell me!

    And then they usually tell.

    Online, however, you can’t really get it out of them….unless you do like I’m doing now….Is it possible your sarcastic remark was more effective even though it was not uttered? It remains in the margins of speech, unknown and ambiguous. All we know is that John had a really good sarcastic comment and darned if we all really wanted to know it. Man, it must have been a really good one. Yea, a really good one. Man, I wish he would have said it……

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 December 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  20. Sam,

    Even though there were no regulations, is it possible that the drug use occurred as a counter-cultural, counter-law movement? I don’t know much about that particular context, but much of the drug use and other 60s behavior here in the states seemed to be rebellious. Rebellious against what? Parents/law/establishment/etc. This kind of goes to John’s (via Lacan via Paul) point that it was law that produced the rebellion.

    So, John, without law would the 60s not have occurred???

    On a related note. The history channel is running a two hour show on the year of 1968 with Tom Brokaw (spelling?). Anyone think that that will be any good? You all are the 60s experts!

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 December 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  21. “One trend in postmodernity is to be less threatened by those ‘tailing edges’ on either end of the bell shaped curve that is ‘normal’.”

    The sexual extremes seem to be getting less populous, though as we’ve discussed elsewhere the conservatives seem to be holding out against acceptance of homosexuality. It’s conceivable that homosexuality and fundamentalism are passing each other on the tail ends of the distribution, the one on its way in, the other on its way out. But given the antipathy to gay marriage and Huckabee’s ascendancy in Republican circles I suspect the fundamentalists have more fight left in them.

    I’m skeptical about regulating drugs from the standpoint of law. Back to our law/desire connection: are more people enthralled by drugs precisely because they’re forbidden by law? And doesn’t the illegality thrust drug users into a whole marginal cluster of activities, most notably poverty and violence and connection to the criminal/enforcement subculture, that are connected to each other only because they are all outlawed?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  22. “without law would the 60s not have occurred???”

    Dude, what about Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Bobbie Kennedy, women’s rights? In my view the response to these events put people in adversarial contact with the law in a way that demonstrated the law’s complicity with societal evils on a grand scale. It was rebellion against law as corrupt that motivated the 60s, at least as far as I’m concerned. That the law would concern itself with smoking weed while it supported segregation in the South and corrupt military interventions in Asia and bashed heads of war protesters was indicative of the law’s illegality. Marijuana? A mostly benign pastime that should have been legalized long ago.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2007 @ 12:43 pm

  23. Okay, Mr. Danger, I’ll reveal my sarcastic secret: that I, a non-Christian, would be helping you become a better Christian I find ironic. The sarcastic remark would be that I’m failing in my efforts to deprogram you.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  24. That particular irony, as far as I’m concerned, is good.

    What specific program needs to be deprogramed? Don’t you at least think it is theoretically possible that there is genuine, non-programmatic faith? Or is all faith necessarily institutionalized and programized?

    Sam, do you think that faith is necessarily programmatic?

    Now that you mention it, John, I wonder if I haven’t been trying to deprogram you, as well. Are all of us bloggers just trying to proselytize in disguise? I like to think that I am becoming more about good dialog and genuine exchange. But what I like to think about myself is not always my self.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 December 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  25. Animals don’t have law and they don’t occupy a dystopia of lawlessness.

    Ah, but the do. Their’s is the dystopia of pinning hope for redemption on the revelation of the sons of God. Without law, Kafka’s dog defines his life in relation to the food from the sky, the master. No transcendence.

    From animal instinct to law, the dawn of human conscience. Starting with a failed instruction, a promise, and a curse.

    Marijuana? A mostly benign pastime that should have been legalized long ago.

    Is that your professional opinion?

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    Comment by "Ron" — 9 December 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  26. Jon, faith isn’t programmatic as long as there is no cultural content to it and that’s next to impossible for me whatever i might wish. If I believe then the only place that my belief will be visible will be in my interactions, behaviour, etc. I can’t help my ego intruding either in what would otherwise be very civil and meaningful discussions, so perhaps its one of those unavoidable things that we got from Adam…

    The 60s certainly was rebellious and the major enemy was the hypocrisy of ‘standard’ society. Where i would quibble with the drugs isn’t with weed or even coke and mushrooms but with the definitely addicting stuff like LSD, crack, opium, angeldust and whatnot. I think the combos of uppers, downers and supposed aphrodisiacs was also dangerous and in its own way addicting. Here i don’t think folks had much choice. You’d party, get exposed and get hooked even before you knew what you were getting into. I’ve had a number of friends who quite unwittingly ended up going down the tubes and there wasn’t much that could be done about it once they were started off.

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 9 December 2007 @ 2:49 pm

  27. “Don’t you at least think it is theoretically possible that there is genuine, non-programmatic faith?”

    Yes I think it’s possible. I don’t really think either one of us has tried to convert the other. Not surprisingly, I’m more interested in secular agendas, whereas you’re more focused on the church and the faith. It’s good that we can both cross over the barricades between territories and have fruitful exchanges in the heterotopic no-man’s land between theos and atheos. Still, as you suggest, we both think we’re right and can’t figure why the other guy doesn’t get it.

    Ron, you’re making an allusion to what, Romans 12 maybe — I’m too lazy to track it down. No wait, I will… ah, Romans 8. Yes I need to take a crack at that passage too in my efforts at expunging all traces of a corrupted creation. Note that the creation suffers pains of childbirth, suggesting not a renewal but something altogether new. And “pains of childbirth” — do you think this is a reference to God’s curse on Eve? And the creation is “subjected to futility,” which to me sounds like Ecclesiastes’ lack of meaning. So maybe the creation has been subjected to lack of meaning, and through the revealing of the sons of God the meaning of the creation comes forth like a new birth? Needs work.

    Is it my professional opinion? No, just a personal opinion. Of course I never inhaled so I don’t know for sure…

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2007 @ 9:21 pm

  28. Sam, do you think these substances ought to remain illegal? Or does its illegality draw people to it that might otherwise remain indifferent? Does it become integral to an outlaw self-image? Of course alcohol is the demise of huge numbers of people and it’s legal, so the outlaw factor isn’t all there is to it. Maybe there’s some sort of desire to enter a barred utopia through which chemicals grant access. Maybe it’s a narcissistic longing for loss of self that was lost in the separation from the mother. Maybe it’s a channel to the unconscious that’s been barred by becoming socialized. All these possibilities are variants of resistance to the Law of the Big Other in Lacan’s interpretation.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2007 @ 9:28 pm

  29. Note that the creation suffers pains of childbirth, suggesting not a renewal but something altogether new.

    Pains of childbirth are caused because of the discomfortable situation of women. A hospital isn’t a place where you can relax, it’s clinical and takes away responsibility and control, and especially the spirituality that should surround birth.
    However, for some their home isn’t a place to relax either…
    Giving birth under water with a midwife at home might be ideal (I only succeeded to arrange this once).
    To play your own music to welcome the newborn, to choose your own visiting hours, to read a poem or a book. The sounds of brothers and sisters playing. And to accomplish this together with your husband from beginning to end.

    Like

    Comment by Odile — 10 December 2007 @ 5:56 am

  30. “Pains of childbirth are caused because of the discomfortable situation of women.”

    According to Genesis 3 the pains of childbirth are part of the curse God bestows on Eve as punishment for succumbing to the Serpent’s temptation. So when Paul refers to the whole creation suffering the pains of childbirth, he’s probably alluding to this Old Testament text. What would happen if we substituted an evolutionary narrative for the Biblical story? The pain of childbirth is due mostly to the size of the baby’s head relative to the width of the woman’s pelvis. The human head is big because it’s got such a big brain inside the skull. Presumably the advantages of the big head outweighed the mother’s discomfort and the significant risk of death posed to both mother and infant during childbirth. Maybe we can interpret the Genesis story as saying that an adverse consequence of humans having a big brain is our natural curiosity about understanding good and evil, which invariably causes us problems.

    “Giving birth under water with a midwife at home might be ideal”

    Maybe that was the idea behind Noah’s Ark?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 10 December 2007 @ 6:30 am

  31. “Giving birth under water with a midwife at home might be ideal”

    Maybe that was the idea behind Noah’s Ark?

    I think that’s a very good level of explanation. Makes sense to me.

    Like

    Comment by Odile — 10 December 2007 @ 7:09 am

  32. I personally suspect fashion to be the culprit. Even today, both women and men seem to subconsciously realise that broad hips are a good thing but culture fights back and promotes a different and totally impractical bone structure instead. Big heads are only a problem for narrow hips.

    Was it Piaget who first popularised water births? It really sounds so much better than the usual cold clinical stuff.

    If my childhood memories are accurate of African village life, giving birth seemed to be no big deal. The village ‘aunties’ would be in attendance but it seemed to be fast and not at all unusual to see the lady out working the fields in a couple days with her newborn strapped to her back.

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 10 December 2007 @ 9:37 am

  33. As expected, there have been no comments about this post on OST since I put it up 4½ days ago. Triggered by Ron’s comment here I took a crack at Romans 8, and then Romans 1. Here’s a copy of these two posts from OST:

    ******

    the creation’s corruption in Romans 8
    Submitted by john doyle on 12 December, 2007 – 01:26.

    This thought experiment seems less like an exhilerating ride down a slippery slope and more like a lonely trudge up a hill. We slog on toward the bottom (or the top):

    For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:19-23)

    We could disregard the Genesis creation narratives and this passage would still make sense. However, Paul indirectly alludes to Genesis 3, so it must be considered. First, the “corruption” of the creation — is it an unnatural condition resulting from God’s cursing the ground in Gen. 3:17-19, causing thorns and thistles to grow, making it difficult for Adam to scratch out a living? From a Darwinian perspective it’s preposterous to suppose that no weeds grew on the earth until after man first sinned.

    In what other way might the creation be subject to the “slavery of corruption”, other than through some sort of deterioration of nature itself? Does the text support the interpretation that man rather than God caused the corruption? I think so. Leading up to this passage Paul addresses the twofold fragility of the human condition: the immorality of the flesh and the morality of the body. The flesh, as we discussed in Romans 5, isn’t a biological transformation of human nature passed down biologically through successive generations, but rather an misalignment between human nature and law from which the desire to violate law emerges. The flesh dies with Christ on the cross, through which those who are justified also die to the Law. The natural physical body, on the other hand, is buried like a seed that sprouts forth in the glorified spiritual body of the resurrection.

    Analogously, Paul speaks of both the corruption and the futility of the creation. The former is associated with immorality, the latter with mortality. Perhaps the interaction of man with nature is intrinsically corrupting. Plants don’t become weeds until they get in the way of human farmers. The natural plant isn’t corrupted in its nature, but in its relationship with man. And of course man does corrupt nature even without evil intent, as a byproduct of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth. In the eschaton, the corruption of nature that spontaneously results from the distinctly and naturally human way of living will come to an end, and the natural “mortality” of nature will be overcome when the present creation “gives birth” to a new creation. It’s a painful delivery, sort of like the dying of the mortal human body, but Paul says it will be glorious.

    *******

    without excuse in Romans 1
    Submitted by john doyle on 12 December, 2007 – 17:03.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

    If human nature was corrupted by original sin, then the human ability to discern God’s hand in the creation might be compromised. If the creation too has become corrupted as a result of man’s sin, then nature itself presents a distorted reflection of what God is like. Christianity has historically posited both forms of corruption, based on Paul’s allusions to the Fall of Genesis 3. We’ve just looked at both these purported corruptions: of human nature in Romans 5, and of the creation in Romans 8. By assuming the truth of evolution we forced ourselves to imagine other ways of interpreting Paul’s words that didn’t force the reader to embrace scientifically implausible beliefs. I personally think these alternative explanations make sense scientifically without distorting the literal meaning of the book of Romans or violating the essence of Christian theology.

    We can put the two revised interpretations of corruption together in Romans 1. Man’s nature isn’t corrupted: there’s an incompatibility between man and law from which corruption inevitably emerges. Nature itself isn’t corrupted: there’s an incompatibility between man and nature from which corruption inevitably emerges. If we as natural human beings can manage to see beyond the uses to which we put nature in order to regard it for what it is in itself, Paul says that we should be able to learn something about God.

    If, in keeping with the trajectory established in this thread, we presume that the heavens and earth came into being roughly the way contemporary science says it did, what can be inferred about “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature”? That He is a God not of conscious design and planned production and dramatically supernatural spectacles but of spontaneous mutation and chance, of incremental evolution and natural selection? That whatever emerges from such processes God regards as “good”? Are we “without excuse” if we don’t see this sort of God revealed through the creation?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 December 2007 @ 8:10 am

  34. WASHINGTON – With all that growing weight up front, how is it that pregnant women don’t lose their balance and topple over? Scientists think they’ve found the answer: There’s are slight differences between women and men in one lower back vertebrae and a joint in the hip, which allow women to adjust their center of gravity. This elegant evolutionary engineering is seen only in female humans and our immediate ancestors who walked on two feet, but not in chimps and apes, according to a study published in Thursday’s journal Nature.

    “That’s a big load that’s pulling you forward,” said Liza Shapiro, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas and the only one of the study’s three authors who has actually been pregnant. “You experience discomfort. Maybe it would be a lot worse if (the design changes) were not there.”

    Harvard anthropology researcher Katherine Whitcomb found two physical differences in male and female backs that until now had gone unnoticed: One lower lumbar vertebrae is wedged-shaped in women and more square in men; and a key hip joint is 14 percent larger in women than men when body size is taken into account. The researchers did engineering tests that show how those slight changes allow women to carry the additional and growing load without toppling over — and typically without disabling back pain.

    “When you think about it, women make it look so very damn easy,” Whitcomb said. “They are experiencing a pretty impressive challenge. Evolution has tinkered … to the point where they can deal with the challenge. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” she said. “A little bit of tinkering can have a profound effect.”

    Walking on two feet separates humans from most other animals. And while anthropologists still debate the evolutionary benefit of walking on two feet, there are notable costs, such as pain for pregnant females. Animals on all fours can better handle the extra belly weight. The back changes appear to have evolved to overcome the cost of walking on two feet, said Harvard anthropology professor Daniel Lieberman. When the researchers looked back at fossil records of human ancestors, including the oldest spines that go back 2 million years to our predecessor, Australopithecus, they found a male without the lower-back changes and a female with them.

    But what about men with stomachs the size of babies or bigger? What keeps them from toppling over? Their back muscles are used to compensate, but that probably means more back pain, theorized Shapiro, who added: “It would be a fun study to do to look at men with beer bellies to see if they shift their loads.”

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 December 2007 @ 11:41 am

  35. I just wrote this at OST, but if anyone is still following along I’ve dragged it over here. It’s premised on Sam’s commment here that African women seemed relatively inconvenienced by delivering babies…

    If that’s the case, then the curse of childbirth placed on Eve could have been cultural rather than physiological. What is it about the Judeo-Christian ethos that would result in a psychosomatic hysterical (hystera = womb in Greek) pain associated with giving birth? Might we invoke a Freudian interpretation, that the pain of childbirth constitutes a kind of deflection of forbidden sexual desire that cannot be expressed directly? Here’s the rest of Genesis 3:16:

    “…yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

    The text does seem to link the woman’s pain in childbirth to sexual desire, not directly — because you desire you will experience pain — but indirectly — you will experience pain and yet you will desire. The phrase doesn’t say “you shall desire your husband,” with “you” as subject; instead it makes “desire” the subject, as if the woman were being carried along by an impersonal force that works through her, maybe even in spite of her. My mastery of Hebrew prepositions isn’t strong enough to go farther, but I’m curious about “desire for your husband.” There’s an ambivalence built into the word “for” this phrase: your desire is directed toward your husband, and your desire is for your husband’s benefit. The latter idea suggests itself in the concusion of the verse — “and he shall rule over you.” In effect your husband’s desire shall rule your desire, you shall desire the desire of your husband. Here’s the Lacanian psychoanalyst Bruce Fink:

    “Rather than taking the object [of desire] for herself, as in obsession, the hysteric seeks to divine the Other’s desire and to become the particular object that, when missing, makes the Other desire.”

    This idea of the “hysterical” woman being what the “obsessive” man desires is consistent with the Genesis 2 creation story, where woman is created by taking something out of man, thereby stimulating man’s subsequent desire to pursue woman, to rejoin her to himself in order to restore what’s missing.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 13 December 2007 @ 11:36 am


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