Monday, 27 June 2011

The Descent of Man

Post by Ian

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Act II, Scene I)

Graham posted a blog entry a few weeks ago on the subject "Good or Bad". This got me thinking on the subject. The cry of "O Tempora, O Mores" has echoed down the centuries from the days of Cicero. The issue is not, I think, a reflection of the times. Rather it is a reflection of attitude.

The post got me thinking on the concept of Original Sin. In my experience, Unitarians believe (as I do myself) in the concept that each living thing contains a piece of the divine. The divine spark, breath of life (Ruach), soul, life force (anima) - whatever you wish to call it, it gives us a connection to the divine. Through this, we have the potential to be like Jesus and live a righteous life. In other words: we are essentially good, if we listen to the voice of our hearts and conscience. This differs from the traditional view that man is a fallen creature.

The concept of Original Sin only exists in the Western Christian church. The Catholic church maintains the concept that we inherit the sin of Adam, and the Protestant churches (in the main) maintain the concept in their branching off from the Catholic church. It is not a concept that exists in the Eastern Christian church. It was one of the reasons for the Great Schism. The Eastern churches believe that we live with the consequences of Adam's sin, but that each person is born innocent of sin. Yet, the concept that we are all condemned from birth persists in Western culture.

Why is the concept of sin important? The definition of sin is basically doing what God find abhorrent. By following the rules (i.e. the commandments and Jesus' teachings), we are able to avoid sin. However, everyone will slip on occasion. So, the traditional answer is that we are all damned unless we believe in Jesus and his ability to save. The claim is that Jesus died on the cross to wash away our sins, especially the original sin inherited from Adam. So, sin and you go to hell. Only faith, they say, can save you - the doctrine of Sola Fide.

A problem if you don't believe in hell. Okay, why not sin then? The answer, personal morality and a sense of social responsibility. If a belief in hell is the only thing stopping you from sinning - especially the major sins of theft, adultery and murder - then you are not a moral person, no matter your other beliefs. It is not the threat of eternal damnation that stops people from committing murder or stealing what is not theirs. The moral person is the one who will listen to the voice of conscience, whatever their faith. In this inner voice, stopping us from immoral action, we can fancy that we hear the voice of God. When we falter, we have the ability to repent our failing and ask for forgiveness (Ephesians 2:8-9). Action through faith (James 2:14-19), and taking responsibility for our actions.

Is Sola Fide what the Bible is saying to us? From some of Paul's writings, this impression can be gained. However, even Paul goes on about the need to back up the faith with good works. James presents the opposing view: that faith is only demonstrated through action. Jesus, to me, shows the latter of these two positions, that of faith through action. He teaches trust in God and the need for personal responsibility for your actions. To be righteous, you need to love God and to honour the commandments. To be perfect, you should sell all your possessions and give to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Perfect people are very rare.

The moral person, no matter their faith, has a social conscience and lives a moral life. The problem arises when we allow ourselves to question the inner voice, or disregard our conscience for the temptation in front of us. If we allow our fears to rule us, we can falter.

And there are voices
that want to be heard.
So much to mention
but you can't find the words.
The scent of magic,
the beauty that's been
when love was wilder than the wind.

Listen to your heart
when he's calling for you.
Listen to your heart
there's nothing else you can do.
I don't know where you're going
and I don't know why,
but listen to your heart
before you tell him goodbye.
~ Roxette, Listen to your heart

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting and thoughtful post Ian.

    I too share your optimistic view that we are not pre-ordained `fallen creatures`. As you imply though, we inevitably all at some time, make wrong choices, as being `perfect` can only ever be a worthy aspiration for a human-some would therefore class such a perception as accepting the notion that we all must therefore `sin`.I also do feel that those who believe that they have faith generally find strength from it, a strength that used appropriately (liberally of course, from a unitarian perspective, not borne down by dogma)reinforces the moral code; it doesn`t necessarily make them any better than anyone else, such as those who rely upon a self-devised social conscience.However, it hopefully may provide an enlightening dimension for some, and a reinforcement of the `inner voice` you mention.

    Enjoyed your thoughts. Thanks