Thursday, July 9, 2015

Original Sin

We read myths from various cultures and smile with a smug superiority that people used to think the Earth rested on the back of a giant turtle or that some guy with a trident caused storms in the sea. But what story can be weirder than the idea that it was my fault and yours that Adam ate that apple in the Garden of Eden and began having relations with Eve? That I was born with shame and the weight of original sin on my tender shoulders because Adam disobeyed his daddy. Perhaps the baby’s birth-cry is, “Hey, don’t blame me! I’ve been through a lot to emerge into this strange air-breathing atmosphere and you’re already trying to make me feel guilty?”

It was the 4th century Saint Augustine who created this dubious doctrine. In his Confessions (quite different from mine!), he tells of his perverse pleasure as a child in stealing an apple from a garden (Adam’s sin revisited) and of his active sex life with a woman he never married. He then repented and decided to burden all of future Christianity with his personal issues by crafting the doctrine of Original Sin and associating the sacred act of creation with something evil. John Calvin, that sexually repressed megalomaniac, took up that idea with a rueful vengeance a millennia or so later and encouraged dropping the R in “celebrate” to the dry and dull and leaning toward secret pedophilia “celibate.” Bad idea.

The next step in the doctrine was that since we’re born evil, impure, lustful, the only way out is to accept Jesus as your personal savior and buy your way into heaven with blind obedience. It’s okay to stray a bit as long as you say some Hail Mary’s and finger some rosary beads. But don’t imagine that you yourself carry an astonishing light of being. God is forever outside of you, someone to look up to and obey and please like a stern father.

But Hafiz, my poet-du-jour, had a different point of view. Two poems from a collection titled I Heard God Laughing translated by Daniel Ladinsky. (And just how many times does God laugh in the Christian Bible? Already the title suggests a different relationship than punishing father and obedient—or disobedient—child.)

God was full of wine last night,
  So full of wine
That He let a great secret slip.
He said:

“There is no man on this earth
  who needs a pardon from Me.

 There is really no such thing,
No such thing
 as Sin.” 

Well, isn’t that refreshing! Hafiz’s God instead invites us to join Him in a cup and shout “Yes! Yes! Yes! to every luminous movement in Existence.” A spirituality based on the Yes of our shining Spirit instead of the No of our depraved souls. I like it.

In a later poem, Hafiz reveals his concept of our failings:

The Only Sin I Know
If someone sits with me
And we talk about the Beloved,

If I cannot give his heart comfort,
If I cannot make him feel better
About himself and this world,

Then, Hafiz,
Quickly run to the mosque and pray—

For you have just committed
The only sin I know.

Isn’t that fine. Reminds me a bit of a quote from social activitist Mother Jones: “To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” We all good use a little comfort and reassurance that we're okay and belong in this world. And yet the comfortable amongst us often show so little compassion and intention to comfort those in need. Now there’s a sin worth discussing.

Finally, Mae West had a whole other take on Original Sin, with accent on the word “original.”

“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I never tried before.”

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