Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Friday, February 20, 2009

Original Sin?

In his book, "A Different Kind of Teacher," John Taylor Gatto has an essay called, "In Defense of Original Sin." I don't usually buy the notion that somehow we've fallen from grace and are all guilty of sin – I usually disbelieve in sin itself. I tend to see behavior as harmful or fulfilling, rather than sinful, evil, or good. Yet here Gatto has a new way of looking at original sin that I find intriguing.

When Gatto says, "The primary goal of real education is not to deliver facts but to guide students to the truths that will allow them to take responsibility for their lives," I think he's getting at the same thing Pete Seeger was saying in the quote directly below the masthead on this blog. I think he's right. Facts are easy, just a Google search away. Truth, responsibility, and wisdom are not so easy, and they get right down the heart of the human condition. Gatto puts this in the context of American Christianity, relating it to original sin. The penalties attending expulsion from the Garden of Eden are work, pain, free will, and death – and each one of these is a burden for every single individual, and the path to fulfillment and a happy life.

Then Gatto breaks these four down. There are all the ways we try to avoid these penalties in our modern, corporate culture – pain pills, denial of aging, lack of morality, work is a nasty four-letter word, and a lot of it is meaningless pencil-pushing. Then there are the meanings he ascribes to these in the concept of original sin.

"On work: Work is the only avenue to genuine self-respect. Work develops independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, and character. Without real work we will inevitably find despair, no matter how much money or power we have. Work … produces spiritual rewards unrelated to the reinforcement schedules of behavioral psychologists, but only if we tackle it gladly, without resentment."

"On pain: Pain is a friend, because it forces our attention away from the world and refocuses it squarely on ourselves. Pain of all sorts is the way we learn insight, balance, and self-control. The siren call of "Feel good!" lures us to court desirable sensations and to despise pain as a spoiler of pleasure. Pain, however, is the road to self knowledge."

"On good and evil: In a spiritual life everything is morally charged; nothing is neutral. Choosing between good and evil is a daily effort, but taking responsibility for your choices makes you fully alive. … When we intensify our moral awareness, everything becomes a big deal."

"On aging and death: This world is only a stage in some longer journey we do not understand. To fall in love with our physical beauty, wealth, health, or capacity for pleasure is to kid ourselves, because all that will be taken away. … The only thing that gives our choices any deep significance is the fact that none of this will last. Awareness of mortality gives relationships an urgency, makes our choices matter."

And to sum up: "The best lives seem to be full of contemplation, solitude, and self-examination; full of private, personal attempts to engage the riddles of existence, from the cosmic mystery of death to the smaller mystery of exchanging secrets with a cat. … What constitutes a good life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, compassion, acceptance of loss, preparation for death."

In other words, things we must do for ourselves, which no teacher can do for us.

To be continued…

5 comments:

David Carrel said...

This morning I read a chapter in a great book on original sin and so it was funny to see your post today about the same topic. The book is "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller. He says that most people look at original sin as a negative for Christianity, but it really allows a person to be free.

He told the story of a man at an AA meeting who was orating on why nothing was his fault. He was "trapped in his need to justify himself." A man leaned over to the author and said, "I used to feel that way too, before I achieved low self-esteem." Once we realize our sin, we are free to live outside of ourselves.

I hope that example was not too out of context for you to get what the author Keller is saying. Sorry if it was. Maybe if you are in a bookstore sometime, you can pick it up and read chapter ten. It was very interesting and over my head; so that would be right up your alley Seda. haha. It is basically a pretty deep philosophical book that talks about people's thoughts on why God could not exist, or why He has to exist.

Anyway, I wish that we had not fallen from grace and did live in a perfect world where we were all able to intimately worship God for the Greatness of who He is. But, as you said, this life is not all there is... Someday, according to the Bible, every knee will bow before Him.

Sorry if I sound a little fanatical for a blog post, but I am sure you understand the hope that I have in Christ.
Talk to you soon Seda.

Seda said...

I had never thought of original sin in the way that Gatto puts it, but in that light, it is liberating. I still don't really believe in it as a concept, but perhaps that's just semantics. I also find the word "sin" to be vague and relatively useless. What is sin to one person is not to another. Sometimes identical behavior is harmful in one case and healing in another. I think using "harmful" and "healing" provides a lot more clarity to our choices than "good" and "evil" or "sin."

However, I don't suppose the actual language used is all that important, when it helps us to take responsibility for our actions and choices.

As for the perfect world, I'm not sure I would like that. Where do you find meaning in a perfect world? One of the great universal quests for humanity is transcendence. How do you transcend from perfection?

The First Domino דומינו said...

"The only thing that gives our choices any deep significance is the fact that none of this will last. Awareness of mortality gives relationships an urgency, makes our choices matter."

I agree that "death" gives Life an urgency that it wouldn't have otherwise.

I also see "death" as an illusion, since I can't possibly believe in a Self that will ultimately cease to be.

Yet, I am aware that my relative life on this planet will some day come to a screeching halt, and I use this awareness to experience ultimate reality (the ongoingness of life) in ways that would be impossible to experience it otherwise.

"What constitutes a good life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, compassion, acceptance of loss, preparation for death."

I don't disagree with this en total, but I view it slightly different than what the author intended, or had in mind.

Self knowledge: Who and What I Am is already established. I can't change that. I Am the Image and Likeness of Love, and nothing else, appearances to the contrary.

(Some would disagree, and that's fine. I'm merely offering another perspective.)

True Self knowledge can only be achieved through experiences, as I relate to something else--That Which I'm Not [All That That Is Not Love]--giving me the opportunity to experience every aspect of Who I Am, let's say, for example, an experience of generosity because I meet someone in need, patience because I meet a situation that is emotionally taxing, caring because I meet someone who has been abandoned.

Duty: I'm obligated to no one outside of mySelf, but mySelf extends well beyond the me that I seem to be, to include All.

There is only One Self and that Self includes All Other seemingly disparate selves. There's Only One of Us Here.

Responsibility: Every Act is a Self-defining act. I Am always responsible, whether I choose to believe that I'm answerable for a decision or an act.

When my head doesn't answer, Life does. What goes out comes back. As you sow you reap, to put it biblically.

Compassion: pity or remorse assumes that there's a reason to feel that way, that a certain act has caused another pain, or loss.

Compassion should lead to a restoration of that which appeared to be have been lost, and an opportunity to experience That Which We Are.

Jesus showed his compassion through an act of restoration.

Compassion is That Which I Am always, but now I get to experience it, because now I'm confronted with a loss of one sort of another.

I see Need (that which comes with a sense of a loss) as an illusion; Yet, I get to use it to experience Who and What I Am.

Acceptance of loss: Only in that it might bring my natural fulfillment, completion, and sufficiency into sharper relief, as something that I might experience.

In Reality I can't lose anything, because I Need Nothing.

Preparation for death: Only in the sense that it prepares me for Life. The notion of death allows me to experience Life more fully, to savor its sweet juices, its succulence.

Death is an illusion.

"I tend to see behavior as harmful or fulfilling, rather than sinful, evil, or good." Seda

You're wiser than you know!

The best lives seem to be full of contemplation, solitude, and self-examination;

I would agree to a point. Solitude for me is a going within, not to examine the Self, because I know the Self That I Am, but to seek out the "silence" the "stillness".

I'm not here to discover anything, because I know All There Is to Know. It's not knowing that I seek, but experience.

Ignorance is an illusion.

I'm here to create and recreate mySelf through the act of choosing and deciding Who and What it Is I choose to be Now (in this eternal moment) from all the many choices before Me, and to experience That.

Seda, my purpose was to share another perspective, not to critique the author. I hope my words came across that way.

Namaste

The First Domino דומינו said...

As for the perfect world, I'm not sure I would like that. Where do you find meaning in a perfect world? One of the great universal quests for humanity is transcendence. How do you transcend from perfection?

Wow! What wisdom!

We are "perfection" itself, but that which we call "imperfection," is not as "imperfect" as it seems.

It, too, serves a perfect purpose.

Namaste

Seda said...

Good point, First Domino! We are perfect, yet nothing in our world is perfect!

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz