Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Free Will & The 'Curse' of Original Sin

“3 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
21 Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

- The Fall of Man from Genesis

Free will

The most common answer to why God allows suffering to occur is because of sin and that we live in a fallen world as a result of the original sin committed first by Eve and then by Adam. This provides even more reason to ask why he allowed sin to get out of hand. Then there is the argument of free will, which is shaky at best. The bible seems to have two conflicting ideas on that issue. More than one verse, even in the New Testament, makes it look like God does not care much for free will. The most cliched retort to this Is God did not want robots; unfortunately it has become highly popular with evangelicals. If free will is what causes sin, would we even keep it in heaven? If our minds were altered to purge all memory of anything related to sin upon getting there this would, in theory, change who were are as our memories and experiences that shape them play a large role in shaping who we are. If these were altered then it is likely we would have lost free will and our identity would be lost. Then you would be robots. Also, just how far does free will go? Where do we draw the line on how to define free will? One does not choose their genetics, we do not choose to be born nor when or where we are born which also means that the argument of free will is extremely limited. Children do not have much ability to choose their parents or teachers whose influence and the quality of their teaching will affect them well into adulthood. Our ability to love others, to a significant degree, is a reflection of the love we receive from our parents, this influence extends further to other family members and to a lesser degree friends. Also, there is some truth in sayings such as "like father, like son" wherein a child may reflect their personality of one (or both) of their parents. While we can choose our friends, we cannot choose our family despite the significant impact they have on whom we become. Hormones or pathological conditions arising due to insufficient or excessive production of a hormone can also alter our behaviour in ways we are not in control of, and in some cases this can result in someone’s personality changing. Medications can also alter our behaviour (or personality) which if the medication is prescribed due to a medical condition you have very little control over. So since we are not in control of many of the physiological or environmental variables that may alter our behaviour, free-will is limited. Christians claim that one of the reasons suffering occurs, and prayers may seem unanswered, is God does not like to interfere with our free will, despite a number of examples in the bible where God does not seem to care much for free will including Romans 9:11-22 where it says that he will harden the hearts of some (as he did the Pharaoh in Exodus). Following is a list of verses that imply that free will does not exist and that our lives and our destination, heaven or hell, are predetermined.

“O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
- Jeremiah 10:23

“And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”Acts 13:48

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…. Moreove rwhom he didpredestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
- Romans 8:29-30

“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. …. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? … Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”-Romans 9:11-22

“He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”- Ephessians 1:4-5

“God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned.”- 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12

“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”- 2 Timothy 1:9

“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.”
- Jude 4

There is much discussion among Christians on God’s respect of humanity’s free will and his wish not to interfere with it. This however doesn't stop Christian's from making prayer requests that would mean God was interfering (e.g asking for someone to convert). If God takes free will so seriously why is he so concerned with converting people? Is not forcing them to adopt a set of beliefs and the Christian way of life (as admirable as many of its attributes may be) or offering an eternity of torment breaching this? While the way of life Christians teach, but do not always follow, may certainly have merit is it necessary to try to force this on other people while saying that their own ideas and beliefs are not correct. Where is the free will in converting someone? Evangelism in itself is a contradiction of the idea of free will. Again, if we have free will, he would not care if we chose to worship him or not. Evangelism would not be seen as necessary because it does not support the idea of free will (convert or go to hell). Some Christians will go so far as to suggest atheists and other non-believers use free-will to choose to go to hell. I highly doubt anyone would freely choose to be tortured in a fire for eternity; it is either believed and worship God or face eternal damnation, if anything it is an ultimatum it is not much of a choice. If people knew Hell existed, and they knew what it was like, they would not choose to go there but all we have to prove its existence is the words of either Christians and the Bible. Although a small number of people have claimed to have gone to hell and come back in a vision or as part of a near death experience, this does not seem to be even biblical as evident in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, wherein the rich man asks to return to warn others what happens after death and his request is denied (Luke 16:19-31). The doctrine of hell and the fact that it clashes with Jewish belief has become one of my many issues with Christianity. Here is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in full:

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar diedand the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted hereand you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” - Luke 16:19-31

While the common evangelism method of converting people is something along the line of John 3:16, believe in Jesus and you will not perish, very few Christian’s will say that it is just a simple matter of believing in Jesus despite repent and believe being used as a common evangelism pitch. In fact, the prerequisites to get into heaven vary considerably between denominations, between them there is probably over a hundred and that is before anyone contemplates whether it is possible for somebody to lose their faith or commit the unforgivable sin, in which case they cannot repent (despite the fact that the opposite is stated at least once in the New Testament). I would have much less problem with evangelism if evangelists believed that if they taught people about Christianity then the other person had the right to teach them about their own beliefs no matter how blasphemous the evangelist thought it was (provided that belief did not include bringing harm on other people or other living creatures).

The curse or Original Sin

As God is omnipotent he could have stopped the curse of sin at any time but for reasons unbeknownst to us chose instead to let it get way out of hand. Some say God cannot stop it for some reason, yet if God is bound by limitations as we are, or sin has power on par with his own, then he is not omnipotent. There is no limit to what he could have done, he is after all God. Preventing a problem or intervening early are better methods of solving a problem than waiting till it cascades out of control as, according to the bible, sin has. Yet according to the Bible God was willing to allow it to get so out of hand he had to take some rather drastic actions which, given that the situation could have been avoided if God was in control, seem unnecessary. For example:
God could have made Eve, or Adam or both infertile and break the so-called cycle of ‘sin’ then started again if he was well aware of what would happen otherwise. Why did God not stop the curse with Adam and Eve thereby saving billions from the suffering that would follow original sin? Although some believe there may have been other people around other than Adam and Eve outside the garden this clashes with the idea that original sin came from Adam and Eve, because if there were other people around then there wouldn’t be any such thing as original sin.

Alternatively, God could not have put the tree in the garden in the first place which Eve eventually ate from (or put the serpent in the garden for that matter, why not send him, or it, to the most inhospitable planet known as I’m pretty sure spirits don’t need oxygen for starters, assuming the serpent was one since it talked and all). On the subject of the serpent, it is interpreted by many Christians to be Satan, if it was then God could have not kicked Satan down to Earth, especially knowing what he would get up to.

To expand on the fall of man, Adam and Eve if they possessed no knowledge of good and evil had no way of knowing what they were doing was wrong. Yes, God said they would die, but while that would mean something to people today, it would have meant nothing to Adam, and Eve in a perfect would, how would they even know what death was? It also says that Adam and Eve would have died the same day they fell, but they clearly did not. The idea that this refers to a spiritual death has been used as a rebuttal to this point, which is backed up by some verses in the bible, there is no universal consensus on what this concept means, nor is it made clear in the text that God is referring to the spirits of Adam and Eve or why to avoid confusion a distinction is not made clear. It is also implied that bearing children was already painful, yet Adam and Eve had no children before they ate the fruit so that particular punishment for Eve’s disobedience would have been completely meaningless if she had never had a child, and why would God make child bearing so difficult that it isn't uncommon for women to die from it (less so in developed countries nowadays)?

While the Jews do believe blood lines could be cursed for several or more generations, as occurs in some narratives in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible (e.g. David’s son born to Uriah’s widow), they believe that individuals are responsible for their own sins and not the sins of their ancestors. The concept of originals sin that is passed from parents to their offspring beginning with Adam and Eve is another point on which Judaism and Christianity differ.

The passage wherein Adam and Eve fall also implies that God, for some reason did not want humans to learn. It is not implied, though I am sure it could be interpreted as such, that this was for our own protection. At least this chapter seems to say that knowledge is a bad thing. I would argue that knowledge is an incredibly valuable tool that sadly not all have adequate access to.