Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 7

This post is part of a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.

Moving along regarding Original Sin!

Last time, we talked about the individual nature of Original Sin as the feeling of meaninglessness and loss of the (non-)thing that makes us whole and complete. Even further, this feeling of meaninglessness – if we don’t deal with it directly – drives us to pursue things that will fill the hole we feel. We are driven to pursue anything that will make us feel satisfied, like we have the answer. This includes ‘God’ – particularly the God-product so many churches sell.

This individual notion of sin manifests itself in a communal way.

Rene Girard
Rene Girard

Often, when we feel the sense of lack that I have described, we project unwarranted value onto an object that another person already has. In other words, we covet what the ‘other’ has because we believe the lie that the object they possess actually brings about real satisfaction in their lives (and will do the same in ours). René Girard calls this kind of desire ‘mimetic.’  Mimetic desire is inherently dangerous because, over and over again, it leads to rivalry and violence.

The problem, however, is that violence doesn’t just end with the individuals who are at conflict with each other. The violence that occurs from individual covetousness always leads to increasing levels of (often vengeful) violence. It doesn’t simply stop tit-for-tat (or “eye for an eye,” if you will). Let’s look at a common example (taken from Brian McDonald at Touchstone Magazine):

Picture two young children playing happily on their porch, a pile of toys beside them. The older child pulls a G.I. Joe from the pile and immediately, his younger brother cries out, “No, my toy!”, pushes him out of the way, and grabs it. The older child, who was not very interested in the toy when he picked it up, now conceives a passionate need for it and attempts to wrest it back. Soon a full fight ensues, with the toy forgotten and the two boys busy pummeling each other.

Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-040-i#ixzz2PFYIZJBa

The story above is familiar to us because it is natural to us. It is something we all do or have done. As we can see in the notion of individualistic sin, the desired object isn’t important. That object has no special power, no intrinsic worth. It is only our mimetic desire that causes us to want the object.

Further, as vengeful violence builds due to our desire for completeness and satisfaction, that violence does not stop with the individuals. Those individuals are part of families, tribes, and communities. Let’s say I try to take the object of desire that you possess, and you harm me physically for my actions. I’m not going to try and simply hurt you as badly as you hurt me – I’m going to try and hurt you more. Then, you not only want to cause damage to me, but to my family as well.My family, in turn, desires to inflict damage on the larger community your family might be a part of. This isn’t rocket science. This is something we understand because it is inherent to our very humanity.

So…

So our very existence is bound to the feeling of lack, of meaningless, incompleteness, a sense that we are missing the thing that gives us satisfaction. To compensate for this, we project value onto objects we believe will make us whole, not lacking anything. When that object is possessed by someone else (and it always is), our desire becomes violent. We do whatever we need to do to obtain the object of desire. This violence never stops by itself. Violence always breeds more violence, until the communities in which we are part of destroy themselves from the inside, from the infectious disease we all carry.

However, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we see a move away from vengeance and violence and destructive desire. This is where our need for atonement comes from, and where we will turn next.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 6

Last time in the evolution series, we talked a little about ‘original sin’ and why it’s still important for us to maintain the concept of ‘sin,’ despite the outmoded doctrinal baggage attached to the language.

Before we set out to talk about individual sin, I’d like to say one thing. Although I’m focusing on the two major ways I understand sin to operate in this post and the next, I am by no means saying these are the only ways we can or should understand original sin. This is the best way I’ve learned to describe it for myself, at the moment. I may understand it differently later in life, and others may not agree with my conclusion. The fact is, I find these two understandings of sin most viable right now because they cohere with my own experiences. And despite those who would say it’s improper to allow my experiences to govern my understanding of God and reality, I’m going to argue that we have no choice but to do so. Say all you want that we need to ‘go back to the Bible.’ Regardless of whether we do that or not, our experiences always govern our understanding of reality, and there is no way around that.

the-idolatry-of-god-breaking-our-addiction-to-certainty-and-satisfactionCurrently, a lot of my understanding of ‘original sin’ stems from the writing of Peter Rollins, particularly in The Idolatry of God.

In The Idolatry of God, Pete uses the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to talk about the feeling of ‘separation’ and ‘lack’ that is inherent to the human experience. For Rollins, if we “consider Original Sin in its most literal definition, we can begin to appreciate how it refers to a primal separation… [It is] the feeling of gap that marks us all from the very beginning” (IoG, 19-20). In other words, every single one of us, at some point, feels a sense of lack, meaninglessness, and dissatisfaction. This is a normal part of the human experience.

Rollins explains that this is a commonly observed phenomenon that originates during what Lacan calls the ‘mirror phase’ in early childhood development – particularly between 6 and 18 months after birth. The ‘mirror phase’ is the stage of infancy where the child’s self-consciousness is birthed. Before this stage in development, there is no real sense of ‘I’ or ‘me’ in the child’s consciousness. S/he is totally unaware of a separation between him/herself and the surrounding environment. However, as soon as the child develops a sense of ‘I,’ there is also an immediate understanding of the existence of ‘not I.’ Rollins states, “The sense of selfhood is marked indelibly with the sense of separation” (13).

This sense of separation from something also leads us to the experience of the sense of a ‘loss’ of something. From the very birth of our self-consciousness, we constantly experience dissatisfaction because we feel as if we are ‘missing’ something – something that actually can bring us satisfaction and rid us of our feeling of meaninglessness.

It is this feeling of dissatisfaction, this feeling of loss, that leads all of us, throughout our lives, to look for ways to get rid of that feeling. We use things like money, power, sex, family, and so on to try and fill the gap we feel, yet we find that none of those things ever make us feel fully satisfied. Further, the Church often makes ‘God’ into another one of these products that can fill the gap, placing the divine on the same level as every other object that promises us some kind of certainty or satisfaction.

In short, Rollins says it this way: “We mistakenly feel that we have lost something central to our humanity (Original Sin) and then postulate some object we believe will restore what we have lost, something we believe will bring wholeness and fulfillment to our lives” (27-28). When we ascribe this value to anything (including ‘God’), we have created an Idol out of the object.

Thus, ‘original sin’ is not something that we need to be punished for because of some inherent level of disobedience to God’s will that we have the second we are born. Rather, on an individual level, it is the feeling of separation, anxiety, and lack that is universal to the human experience.

Next, I’ll focus on how this individual sin progresses to systemic/communal sin and – in the following posts – how the atonement addresses these problems.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 5

This is a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.


In my last post, I ended with a question that I think needs to be answered in light of the acceptance of evolution within the paradigm of Christianity: what is sin, how does it affect us, and why is the cross a solution to that problem?

I’d like to address sin specifically in the next couple of posts. As I said before, I don’t think Paul’s writings warrant the view of original sin common to evangelicalism today (I should say at this point that my view of Scripture as non-inerrant does not mean I de-value it or think it worthless. On the contrary, I think it is extremely important and worth our attention. I just prefer to avoid proffering some kind of “paper pope” status to it). It seems to me that Paul, in places like Romans and 1 Corinthians was looking through the lens of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and trying to make sense of the Event that occurred.

In other words, the cross was a solution, but to what? To the universal reality of death, and the universal reality of sin. Paul may have used Adam as an example, but his example does not warrant doctrinal certainty that we should say something like “Adam sinned, thus we are all guilty.” Again, Genesis doesn’t teach this, Judaism (both before and after Christianity) doesn’t teach this, Jesus doesn’t teach this.

ProblemsWithOriginalSin
Source – http://www.becomingorthodox.com

What the common, current doctrine of original sin teaches is “Why?” But here’s the thing – I don’t think that’s the point. The point is this: sin, death, hurt, the feeling of meaninglessness, violence… they’re all real. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to define sin, but we don’t need to create a system where one (pre-)historical dude sinned, and because of some weird cosmic justice that God must adhere to, blood is required to atone for Adam’s (and our!) disobedience to God’s commands.

Another unfortunate consequence of thinking about sin this way is the loss of the systemic nature of sin. In other words, the common view of original sin places the spotlight on our individual sinful natures and requires a personal atonement, but can only go that far. This kind of view doesn’t allow us to view the problem of sin/evil as existing in the systems we create, and if it does, it assumes that the problem would be fixed if we all just became a(n) ____________ kind of Christian. Or, if the entirety of humanity just believed the same as us, everything would be alright.

Contrary to this, I’d like to affirm a view of sin that is both individual and systemic/communal. I will not / cannot address why things are the way the are. Personally, I don’t think any of us can; I think we just like to try, because we like certainty, satisfaction, etc. I also don’t think it’s important to try to speculate about how sin came into the picture originally. What I do think is important is to address the fact that sin exists, and move on from there.

In my next post, I’ll address sin as an individual issue, via the Radical Theology of Peter Rollins (though many of you may not agree with my conclusions), and the post after that will address systemic sin via some of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory. Tune in!