Adam and Eve realised that they were naked and hid in shame. When God next visited the Garden he realised that they had disobeyed him. God also banned them from eating the fruit of the tree of life, and so death entered the world. Christians believe that when Adam and Eve sinned in Eden and turned away from God they brought sin into the world and turned the whole human race away from God.
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The doctrine absolves God of responsibility for the evils that make our world imperfect by teaching that Adam and Eve introduced evil to a perfect world when they disobeyed him. An alternative understanding of the story of the fall emphasises that Adam and Eve did wrong because they 'gave in' to the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
This second understanding fits well with human psychology. Looking at it this way, original sin becomes the tendency for human beings to 'give in' when tempted by the prevailing evils of the society around them, rather than standing up for good, and it helps explain why each individual finds temptation so hard to resist. As the Bible puts it:. A third understanding teaches not so much that Adam's sin brought sin into the world, but that it removed from humanity the gift that enabled people to be perfectly obedient to God.
Adam was created in the image of God with the potential to be perfectly fulfilled through his existence and his relationship with God. But Man failed to fulfil his potential and opted to go it alone and estrange himself from God. Jesus as the "Second Adam" re-established the relationship with God and showed how man can become perfectly human - which puts him in right relationship with both the creator and his creation.
Original sin is a difficult doctrine, and a rather gloomy one, but it had some key theological benefits that have kept it as a mainstream Christian teaching:. What effect has the concept of original sin had on Western culture, and how did it influence gender and morality in Christian Europe? One rather difficult explanation says that the whole human race was somehow contained in Adam and so when Adam fell, they fell too. The other explanation, expanded below, is that all human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve. Modern Catholic teaching is less clear about the mechanism of transmission and refers to it as a mystery.
St Augustine, who largely devised the theory of original sin, thought that original sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. Augustine did not say exactly how this happened. He said that it was transmitted by "concupiscence", when people had sex and conceived a child.
Concupiscence is a technical theological word that Augustine used to refer to sexual desire as something bad in the soul that was inseparable from normal human sexual impulses. Sexual desire was bad, he taught, because it could totally overwhelm those caught up in it, depriving them of self-control and rational thought. This disapproving view of passion was quite common among Christians of Augustine's time.
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Augustine thought that concupiscence was present in all sexual intercourse. He thought that it was just as bad and uncontrolled in a marriage as it was in non-marital sex, but that an excuse could be made for it within marriage because its purpose was to produce legitimate children. This bad element in sex provides the means by which original sin is transmitted from father to child. It transmits both humanity's guilt for Adam's crime and the sickness or defect that gives human beings a sinful nature. Now from this concupiscence whatever comes into being by natural birth is bound by original sin The Council or Trent , or Trentine councils were a series of Roman Catholic theological meetings in response to the Reformation.
The Council of Trent gave the official stamp to the idea that original sin was transferred from generation to generation by propagation - which means during the sexual act that led to conception.
This formalised the notion of Original Sin as part of Roman Catholic doctrine. The Council explicitly ruled out the idea that original sin was transferred by "imitation"; in order to block the idea that human beings just copied the bad example set by their parents and others.
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These closely related ideas teach that original sin is passed on by copying the sinful tendencies of other people. The Council of Trent decreed that this idea was false. Many churches accept that infants can be cleansed of original sin by being baptised soon after birth. The other elements required are carried out by adults on the baby's behalf during the ceremony.
In St Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote: "Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery".
This conception of Redemption as freedom from bondage is crucial for Judeo-Christian thought. On the face of it, original sin doesn't answer the question as to how evil got into the world; instead it leaves other questions to be answered. As one writer puts it:. Why is there original sin? Because Adam sinned? Then why did Adam sin? If it was because of the serpent, why did the serpent sin? If the serpent is supposed to have been a fallen angel, why did the angel sin?
And so on. And there is a second, but related, question. If evil did not exist before Adam sinned, how could Adam know that what he was about to do was evil - how was he to know that it was wrong to disobey God? For modern people the idea of being punished for a crime committed by someone else is unethical and unacceptable.
The doctrine of original sin blames Eve for tempting Adam into sin and has been responsible for centuries of Christian bias against women. Augustine's theory of original sin was so intrinsically tied up with his disapproval of human sexual love that for centuries it contaminated all sexual passion with the idea of sin. Some Christian thinkers are unhappy with the idea that human beings start out so bad that they can't become good without God's help. Science shows that the Biblical creation story is not literally true, and demonstrates that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden are myths and not historical figures.
This destroys the idea of original sin as being caused by the misbehaviour of the first man and woman, and the idea of inheriting guilt or punishment for that misbehaviour. Most modern theologians don't think this a good reason to abandon the doctrine of the fall. They believe that although the story is not historically true, it does contain important truths about the state of humanity. The doctrine of original sin is based on the idea that God created a perfect world, and that humanity damaged it and themselves by disobeying him. Evolution, on the other hand, suggests that life in the world is steadily changing and becoming more diverse.
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Scientists do not tend to think of this as a moral good or evil, but in a sense evolution sees life on earth as moving closer to 'perfection' - becoming better adapted to its environment. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
A more modern idea is to give an ethical spin to the evolutionary idea and suggest that humanity should not be concerned about a past fall from grace, but concentrate on becoming more ethical beings and thus bringing about a better world. Bishop Richard Holloway has described the idea that unbaptised babies go to hell as "one of the most unsympathetic of the Christian doctrines," and not greatly improved by the teaching that there is a special "limbo" for unbaptised babies on the outskirts of the inferno. Original sin has been criticised for inspiring excessive feelings of guilt. The 18th-century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.
Is the feeling of guilt a vital part of our moral lives or can it do more harm than good? One of the biggest problems the Catholic Church faced over the years was the problem of children who died before they were baptised. Before the 13th Century, all unbaptised people, including new born babies who died, would go to Hell, according to the Catholic Church.
This was because original sin had not been cleansed by baptism. This idea however was criticised by Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophiser, who said that babies who had no personal sin didn't even deserve punishment. It was Abelard who introduced the idea of 'Limbo'. The word comes from the Latin 'limbus', meaning the edge. This would be a state of existence where unbaptised babies, and those unfortunate enough to have been born before Jesus, would not experience pain but neither would they experience the Beatific Vision of God.
The idea of Limbo was defined in by Pope Pius X in his catechism. Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory. However, unease remained over reconciling a Loving God with one who sent babies to Limbo and the church still faced much criticism. The Church, which has never claimed to definitely know who will go to Heaven apart from the Saints , or Hell, has said that the issue has long been one of speculation in the Church.