Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 112: Original Sin, part 2
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 112: Original Sin, part 2

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Last week, we explored Augustine’s dubious theory about how humans transmit Original Sin. Another difficulty with Augustine's ideas relates to the translation of a passage that was critical to Augustine’s formulation of Original Sin. In expounding his theory, Augustine frequently referred to Romans 5:12, which the KJV1 translates as, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The key phrase is “for that all have sinned.” Many other translations are similar, and the RSV has “because all men sinned” and the NIV has “because all sinned.” Augustine acknowledged that he had not mastered Greek, and some scholars have argued that Augustine made two errors in translating the Greek into Latin.2 First, misunderstanding the Greek eph hō as equivalent to en hō, his Latin translation in quo translates into English as “in which all have sinned” unlike the Greek, which translates into English as “for that all have sinned.” Second, he thought the pronoun “which” referred to Adam rather than to death. Consequently, Augustine concluded that humankind’s sinfulness directly derives from Adam’s sin.

Many translators have understood eph hō to indicate a causal connection between death and “all have sinned”, and therefore, for example, the RSV reads “because all have sinned.” Despite regarding eph hō differently from Augustine, many theologians have retained Augustine’s theological conclusions, arguing that “all have sinned” refers to solidarity with Adam when he sinned. A Girardian reading suggests a different understanding. The sin that Adam introduced to the world was acquisitive mimetic desire (i.e., Adam desired the forbidden fruit that God seemed to desire above all else), and acquisitive mimetic desire has always given rise to dissatisfaction with what we have, conflicts, and violence. Our unending quest to satisfy unquenchable desires and our conflicts with each other, God’s animals, and God’s earth alienate us from God’s love and from each other, causing us to experience both spiritual and physical death. As long as acquisitive mimetic desire motivates us, we will continue to sin (i.e., stray from God’s path of love) and to experience spiritual death. If our lives focus on our acquisitive mimetic desires than rather God’s desires, our lives jump from trying to satisfy one desire to trying to satisfy the next, without ultimate direction or meaning. Furthermore, acquisitive mimetic desires do not provide a concept of a spiritual realm in which we can find peace and contentment apart from this world. In this state of spiritual death, our thoughts about our own physical death are terrifying. If we feel spiritually dead, we physically experience the decay of our bodies with fear and loathing, and we mentally experience thoughts about our eventual physical decline and death (i.e., our departure from this world) as the end of our existence.3 There is no way to know with certainty what happens to the self when the body finally expires, but an important consequence of spiritual death is that it causes us to experience death, in our imaginations and in the relentless decline of our bodies, as final and complete. Since humans innately fear death, experiencing death tends to be psychologically terrifying.

This correlation of spiritual death with the experience of death accounts for Roman 5:12, which relates sin to death. There are two ways to avoid experiencing death. One way involves repression, but repressed thoughts and feelings always emerge eventually, often in distorted ways and often in ways that prove harmful. The other way is to faithfully follow God while regarding God as about life and not about death. One would then celebrate life as a gift from God and trust that the death of the body is not the final word. In dedicating one’s life to God, one’s desire to sin fades away. With such a perspective, one would naturally align one’s desires with God’s loving desire for all creation. Since God is remote and details about faithful living can be difficult to discern, Christians look to the Bible and to Jesus in order to understand God’s desires.

1. KJV: King James Version; RSV: Revised Standard Version; NIV: New International Version.

2. A. B. Caneday, “Comments on Romans 5:12-14”

3. Many people envision a life-after-death in Heaven, in which all our desires are met. However, mimetic theory tells us that it is not reasonable to view of Heaven as a place of unlimited resources that satisfies all our desires, because much of the reason we derive satisfaction from gaining the objects of desire is that they are scarce. Because so many of our terrestrial desires remain unsatisfied, a Heaven in which all our desires were fulfilled sounds appealing, but a moment’s reflection reveals that such a place would rapidly become intolerably boring.

Go on to: Part 113: Christianity and the Roman Empire
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