Warning: this is an ill-thought-out post.
Today, according to the Writer’s Almanac, is the birthday of St. Augustine, he who wrote The Confessions to demonstrate his point that all of us are infected with sin, and whose ideas about “original sin” (i.e., because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we have all inherited their “sinful nature”) became official Church doctrine.
Of all the insidious kinds of woo on the market, I have to rank this one the worst. Even when I was a small child, the story of Adam and Eve didn’t make sense. First of all, what was wrong with gaining knowledge? Was it not pounded into our heads that was the reason we went to school, to gain knowledge—that was supposed to be a good thing, right? And here was God telling us don’t eat that fruit.
And why? Reasons unclear, except that the Lord God Jehovah and his angelic gang seemed a wee bit petty about their privilege.
Then there was the inheritability of sin. Somehow there was this little bead of BAD STUFF that was embedded in our souls, passed down from parent to child, and God hated us for it. Sure, the adults in the room tried to soften that by saying it made God sad that we had this thing that we couldn’t help and was his fault in the first place, but the book is pretty clear: he was pissed. He cursed the man and the woman, and threw them out of his special garden.
And why? Did it actually solve anything? Did it make them any less knowledgeable about good and evil? Did it cleanse the Lord God’s creation of all the ickiness? Quite the reverse: mankind rapidly spread over the earth like cockroaches, blundering their way through encounter after encounter with Jehovah and always coming out on the short end of the deal.
(Have you ever noticed that? In other mythologies, there’s someone who’s able to outwit the gods. Not Jehovah, man—the only person who came even close was Abraham when he tried to bargain the Lord God down to sparing Sodom if he found ten virtuous men there, and we know how that ended. I’m thinking Jehovah was kind of dickish even in that, because if he’s omniscient he already knew there were not ten good men there. (For one thing, according to St. Augustine, no one’s good anyway.))
Then there was the crowd that tried to make it all about Free Will, and that it was our fault for disobeying God. God gave us this Free Will, and we failed the test by exercising it. All of us. Forever. Dick move, Jehovah.
And if there were ever a phrase to pitch a boy headlong into the morass of sinful thoughts, it would have to be “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” [Genesis 2:25] Woo boy! Nekkid grown-ups! I somehow knew that there must be something really cool about being naked—it was fun and felt good, for one thing. For another, just like God told Adam not to eat that fruit because reasons, grown-ups didn’t want you to be naked. Because reasons.
Of course, the prohibition failed in its prime directive, to keep me innocent of that knowledge of good and evil. There were so many paintings of the couple available in art books that if the goal were to keep me ignorant of the human body, it was a complete failure. I could not help noticing, though, that these portraits were missing some crucial information that I really wanted to know: down there. I know I am not alone when I say I spent half the time gazing at Renaissance art mentally moving fig leaves.
Anyway, the puzzlement for me was that God seemed to be completely okay with nudity, but then for some unexplained—and inexplicable—reason changed his mind. He plopped the two down in Eden, buck nekkid, and didn’t flip the switch that it was “shameful.” What was up with that? So many questions. Suffice it to say that I have spent a lot of time since exploring my options.
In the end, I have come to view Augustine’s personal shame as one of the worst intellectual pogroms in Western culture, just a Scholastic meme to convince humans that they were separate from the divine. It has never done humankind any good that I can see, so happy birthday, Augustine—good riddance.