Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Teaching Our Children to Sin

Reading. Or at least I was. Maybe it's adult ADHD or maybe, since embarking on what has now become a nearly ten year journey of discovery, the reading across disciplines of theology, history, anthropology, and others I find that interconnected tones lead off into reflection.

Still reading "The Age of Reform 1250-1550" and Ozment is now looking at the life and work of Martin Luther. The consensus of the scholarship seems to show that Luther's earlier religious life before and after monastic life were marked by anxiety and neurosis. Of course in the middle ages the religious method of clergy (which was thrust in lesser measure to the laity) was marked by a deeply penitential structure; i.e. "paying your way" toward salvation through structured forms of self-loathing and penitential, ascetic practices.

From where does this derive? It isn't Ozment's purpose to answer that question, and it's probably there in the writing if I'd read with an eye to find it. But it isn't a leap to take this all the way back to the myth of a garden called Eden.

James Alison writes[1]: "One of the first fruits of the fall was the knowledge of good and evil, does it not suggest that that knowledge, at least in its current form, is inappropriate to us?"

Reflection on this can reveal much about not only Luther's life and times but our own. There is so much anxiety and neuroses in our culture and this anxiety seems to be behind much of the hatred and vilification of "the other". So just how deep do these roots go?

It would be foolish to argue that there is no difference between good and evil, there is. But it seems we are not supposed to know that there is! This is surely a complex arrangement. But in the story when it connects the knowledge of these two states to death is where a larger panorama opens up. The fact that we know the difference leads to death. Death has two players, one is the dead, the other is the killer. When we teach others the difference between good and evil are we in fact instructing them in a methodology of how they may die or, even more disconcertingly, to kill and be justified in doing so?

This obviously creates a huge problem. There is also, biblically, this other connection made throughout. "Sin" = death. So then we have this: knowledge of good and evil = death; sin = death; knowledge of good and evil = sin. This is no mere syllogism.

So then in this way "sin" (whatever it is) is not connected with "evil" in a strict sense but with knowing the difference between it and "good" and that this leads us, or others, to death. We, as a species, use this knowledge as a method of justification for just about every type of evil one could imagine.

Alison continues[2]: "Any accusatory knowledge of sin has a particular propensity to blindness about complicity and that only forgiveness enables us to see."

In light of this what should we teach others? What should we relate to our children, our neighbors, our friends, or maybe more importantly, our enemies if not some sense of moral certitude if our moral certitude is a part of this pattern of sin and death as told us by the Christian scriptures?

I am assured that Jesus gave plenty of clues for those who have ears, and eyes to at least begin working this out.

[1] Alison: "The Joy of Being Wrong, Original Sin through Easter Eyes" pp 263, Crossroad Publishing Co. New York.
[2] Ibid. pp 265