The Chaotic Word Blogging with a Hammer


Christ and the World’s Sins: an alternative explanation

It is a tenet of traditional Christianity that the messiah, Christ, took it upon himself to bear the weight of the world's sins. Through something that appears to be much like magic, this decision of Christ's is part of what redeems his followers, saving them from original sin and, likewise, from death.  This response seems to me to be too otherworldly and too contaminated by wish fulfillment (although I could be wrong. It is very easy to be wrong about religious matters).

But what if something else is meant, entirely?

Here's an alternative explanation: Christ is representative of the individual who decides that everything that constitutes human nature, socially, also constitutes him, individually. Most human beings do not want to accept this. Who wants to believe that the capacity for criminality, torture -- and, worse, totalitarian extermination -- exists within our breasts? But it is in fact in the denial of this truth that people cut themselves off from the full expanse of human moral capacity.

What if it were impossible to understand how good a human being might be, until you were fully willing to accept that you would have been a Nazi -- even a concentration camp guard -- if you had been born in Germany at the appropriate historical moment? The development of such understanding really constitutes a full encounter with evil. Such a process is captured, mythologically, by the story of Christ encountering and overcoming Satan in the desert (which is a lonesome and desolate place).

Think about it: How could you be good, in truth, if you do not understand evil? How can you avoid participating in a process you do not understand? You might be participating right now, without even knowing it! (In fact, you probably are).

Think about this, too: If the understanding of evil is the primary impediment to enlightenment and redemption, then it is easy to understand why those virtues or properties are so rare.

It is through the encounter with radical evil, and the acceptance of personal responsibility for the existence of that evil, that man is redeemed, and spiritual death, with its attendant all-too-real hells, is avoided.

Understanding all of this also means beginning to understand the meaning of the "imitatio Christi."

Filed under: Religion Leave a comment
Comments (11) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Do children need to understand evil in order to be good?

  2. Jordan,

    I’m troubled by this sentence:

    “It is through the encounter with radical evil, and the acceptance of personal responsibility for the existence of that evil, that man is redeemed, and spiritual death, with its attendant all-too-real hells, is avoided”. and especially “the acceptance of personal responsibility for the existence of that evil”.

    Is it really necessary to go as far as “personal responsibility”? There are many ways of acknowledging evil, besides seeing oneself as personally responsible for it, especially if you are referring to “that evil” in other words, a particular kind of evil. The brilliance of the idea of the “original sin” suggests that we are all touched, stained, formed by the original act of defiance. But acknowledging that we are not categorically different form those who who have committed acts of evil is still a long distance from personal responsibility.
    The language of personal responsibility reminds me too much of the call by feminists and their male supporters that went out following the Marc Lepine killings in Montreal that demanded that all men acknowledge their personal responsibility for having vested interest in maintaining a culture that is hostile to smart and ambitious women.

    That we all have to be aware of the likelihood that we might be complicit in an enactment of evil deeds is something very different from assuming personal responsibility for evil deeds committed by others.


  3. To me, the notion of “personal responsibility” means an acknowledgment of our – of anyone’s capacity – to commit any act. Until we recognize that under the right circumstances, with the right external and internal pressures, we could commit murder or participate in genocide, then we’re not acknowledging our own humanity. That is arrogance or pride – the deadliest of the seven. Ironically, it’s our very acceptance of our dark potentials that makes us less likely to enact them.

  4. If a personal responsibility means personally responding to the fact that we, ourselves harbor impulses that under similar circumstances would lead to evil, I don’t see what’s wrong with the term. For example, as a woman, I could say that I was personally responsible for the Montreal tragedy to the extent that I have been reluctant to acknowledge how my actions have directly or indirectly (especially indirectly) contributed to the world in which something like this could happen. In the same way, I agree with Jordan – the idea of Christ taking on the sins of humanity mirrors Christ’s concentrated empathy (that gets translated as ‘compassion’) in reflecting his own potential for committing each and every one of those sins.

  5. This is a query for Gregg: What in your experience has convinced you that it is “our very acceptance of our dark potentials that makes us less likely to enact them?”

  6. Response to Jordan: I think that the acceptance of the existence of our dark impulses implies a relationship with them – a relationship with the shadow. Keeping an eye on dark impulses allows us to examine our motives in certain situations, joke about them (humor often being based in wicked potentials), and otherwise acquaint ourselves with all the things we could be capable of. This is the opposite of repression and I think people who repress said urges are more likely to have them rear up and control their behavior – are more likely to have their dark impulses control them.

  7. I have always thought of Christ’s acceptance of all sins as an answer to the question of the Old Testament which is what do we do with Cain? Having an understanding of the motivations (or lack of motivations) that lead to Cain’s act can certainly give us a richer understanding of ourselves and our own impulses, but still – what about Cain? Do you forgive him? And perhaps if you find yourself on Cain’s path, can you forgive yourself?

  8. Gregg, your response doesn’t do it for me. You write: “notion of “personal responsibility” means an acknowledgment of our – of anyone’s capacity – to commit any act”. It is self-evident to me think that there is and should be an ethically significant distance between acknowledgment and responsibility.

    Also, I would think that it if we want to invoke an existential dimension of responsibility then it does not help to speak of ‘anyone being able to commit any act’. I don’t think it’s true that all of us would be capable of committing all types of evil. I would think that given our particular biographies and temperamental dispositions, some of us – under particular circumstances – would be prone to either acts of brutality or of cowardice.

    THis however does not solve the problem of acknowledgment being tantamount to responsibility

    And Maya’s intervention doesn’t not help me either/

    You write: “I could say that I was personally responsible for the Montreal tragedy to the extent that I have been reluctant to acknowledge how my actions have directly or indirectly (especially indirectly) contributed to the world in which something like this could happen”.

    I truly cannot fathom what it is that you have done or not done – directly or indirectly – that would put you in a position of responsibility.
    A question. Do you feel responsible or do you know that you are?

    I’m curious whether your sense of responsibility varies depending on what type of evil deed it is.

    Just to pick something from the headlines. How do you compare your response to what happened in Montreal to the recent shooting in Finland where a rejected former boyfriend shot the women and 3 of her co-workers? (Yes, to make the example pertinent, the shooter was an immigrant from Bosnia)

    In order for personal responsibility to be real, we must feel it. Presumably we will feel differently about different kinds of evil. But if all evil is equally evil then there is no room for developing a nuanced sense of what kind of evil we personally might be amenable to commit.

  9. I think, the potential to commit evil is inherent in each individual. The question of evil is as old as human existence itself – religion, scripture, philosophy, and psychology have all tackled the question of the darker impulses and ” shadow” of human nature and no one explanation seems to suffice in explaining and understanding evil. The issue is far more complex and multi – layered than one may want to believe it is. I agree, that we feel differently about different acts of evil and not all evil is equal . The diabolical regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalin are arguably more evil than other nation states who also committ evil acts during war – time. To understand evil once must ready to accept the ubiqitous nature of evil, the potential of evil within each person, and the external forces that push people to commit evil acts as evidenced in Nazi Germany.

    As a social worker, who has worked with countless children and teenagers I can clearly state that children do committ acts of evil and at times feel remorse and guilt and at other times have no sense of shame or personal guilt associated with their evil acts. In the later, it is almost always the case that the child/youth has experienced abuse at the hands of a trusted parental figure which leads to the child developing a strong sense of powerlessness and internalized rage at their incapacity to confront the abuser or to escape their abusive environment. Ultimately, the child/youth, will either become self – destructive or lash out their rage at younger siblings or weaker children at school. In families where there is addictions, abuse, and abandoment of the child the risk for the child to become aggressive, anti – social, or enage in evil acts is greatly intensified due to the child
    internalized resentment and sense of victimization.

    Essentially, children become evil because adults teach them no other alternative.

  10. It’s the irony that’s most striking to me. Instead of humanity saving itself by making sacrifices to God, God saves humanity by sacrificing Himself. This idea also seems to be paralleled in the Zen koan, “If you ever meet the Buddha, kill him.”

    I think that the opening stories in Genesis only portray a “partial fall” for humanity because, at this point, the capacity or willingness to do what is required for redemption (the action of Logos) doesn’t seem to be commensurate with the magnitude of original sin. Abel may have been favoured by Yahweh, but there’s some reason to believe that his sacrifices weren’t truly good enough in the first place. For example, Abel doesn’t speak a single word. Since we know that speech is associated with Logos, and Logos with redemption, this might mean that Abel isn’t really redeemable. And although Abel may have been a hard worker, he must have been pretty dim if he didn’t see Cain coming (as Juan Pascual-Leone once pointed out). Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any real moral intent behind Abel’s offerings, at least not in the version of Genesis I’m reading. I think this all means that Abel didn’t really internalize the burden of moral responsibility that the Fall (into consciousness) forced upon humanity. He seems more like a goody two-shoes than a strong example of real moral character, following the “letter of the law” but not grasping the “heart of the law.”

    I think that after the execution of Christ, the Fall was truly completed because it mounted our destiny squarely on our own shoulders since salvation could no longer be in “God’s hands.” If your messiah is dead, then there’s nothing left to save you but the operation of your own sense of right and wrong, your own moral consciousness. Perhaps something like this is what is meant by the imitatio Christi: After the Resurrection, the redemptive capacity that was once localized in Christ became a transpersonal phenomenon, thus making the Kingdom of God accessible to everybody.

    So, maybe original sin was such a catastrophe that the only offering that could possibly save humanity was the sacrifice of God Himself.

  11. Hola, De dуnde eres? їEs un secreto? :)


Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.

Get Adobe Flash player