Doctrinal Damage of the Collateral Sort (Part 2)
So the Doctrine of Original Sin has its origins in the interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve story, one that blames them both for the Fall, but blames her a bit more, setting up a an imbalance that religion’s darker side has done its best to maintain these fifteen hundred years despite the ongoing collateral damage.
My grandmother’s life, for instance.
Mount Pleasant, Texas, 1910, 1913, 1932
Emma was born in 1892 into the upper middle class of northeastern Texas white society, a reality so different from ours today that it seems a parallel universe. Every moment of life there was colored by religion, by the certainty that God—a thunderous, demanding, unforgiving tyrant—was everywhere, hearing one’s every thought, seeing one’s every action, remembering every transgression, and keeping score for Judgment Day. Other eyes were watching, too: God’s self-appointed surrogates, women with little else to do but watch others—especially young women—interpret what they observed, and pass it along in whispers. Like the generations of women before them, they believed that Satan was in every desire, and his most powerful temptation was sex. Sexual intercourse, therefore, was to be practiced only within the bonds of marriage, only for procreation, and never for pleasure. Decent Christian women considered sex disgusting, so, while a man might have no choice but to reach orgasm if he were to impregnate his wife, for a woman to take even the smallest pleasure from the act was reason for the deepest, private shame. Having earned a master’s degree, my grandmother may have known something of Augustine, though of her acquaintances, men as well as women, I doubt that more than a few had ever heard his name. John, my grandfather, was a handsome young man, a fast talker, and just a bit roguish. Emma was a tall, willowy, quiet beauty. When she discovered that she was pregnant, their wedding plans were already under way. They were in love, they married straightaway, Neil’s birth certificate was marked “Legitimate,” and none of it mattered, because when Neil died at age three, they, their families, and their community interpreted his death as retribution for his parents’ sin, especially his mother’s: God had taken the child. As it turned out, one would not be enough.
The rest of the story tomorrow
A Few Notes About My Blog
This is not a religious blog, because Genesis is not religious, not in the way we tend to think about religion—that is, belief in a formal or informal set of beliefs about a Supreme Being.
What you will not find in a reading of Genesis:
- Anyone trying to convert anyone else;
- People praying together. Yes, Jacob did pray. Twice. The first time was the morning after the dream about the ladder, the second, twenty years later, on hearing the scouting report that Esau was bringing 400 armed men to their reunion. This, the brother he’d cheated, who, last he’d heard, was "consoling himself by planning to kill you";
- Anyone whose personal presentation—i.e., manner of speaking, vocabulary, the sort of real and false piety now ubiquitous in the media—signifies him or her as a "religious" person.
What you will find in a reading of Genesis:
- Characters who occupy a deeply ironic, unique place in the human imagination. On the one hand, their moral/spiritual DNA is embedded in the foundations of Western civilization. On the other, but for biblical stories and commentaries, no proof of their existence is to be found in the vast archeological record. They are probably fictional creations, yet they have and continue to shape us as a society and as individuals, those of us who are religious and those of us who are not;
- Three thousand year old stories achingly human in their narratives of stupidity, greed, bravery, cunning, courage and the rest. In other words, stories and characters that are universal, that, if the reader wants, can be a conduit into the self, and into the deeper matters of being human. In fact, I would say that anyone who does a close reading of Genesis, who looks deeply into the characters, will find reflections of his/her own best and worst selves.
One last thing: Because these stories and characters have shaped us all, they belong to us all, the unreligious as well as the religious. Think of them as property held in common.