Although not directly related to the topic of original sin, I think it’s important to briefly touch upon the framework of karma as I explore the ways I interacted with the idea of inherited guilt in my personal journey. Before my turn toward Christianity, the primary lens through which I interpreted and made sense of reality was largely karmic in nature.
Karma is often caricatured in Christian discussion as a lens which is fatalistic, deterministic, or pessimistic. But that’s not really the case. While it is nuanced differently in different settings and traditions, the karmic tapestry is rich and multivalenced. There are different ways to categorize karma according to time, priority of effect, or function. While karma plays a part in determining your present position, it is not the only force at work and beings are not bound or limited by their karma.
Within a karmic perception of reality, every birth is conditioned (though rarely solely) by the karma of the past life. However, this is different from the idea of inherited guilt in several important ways. First, it is not “guilt” or “innocence” in a juridical sense. Instead, your karma consists of the accumulated weight and causal effect of your past attitudes, decisions, and actions. There is no external judge rendering a verdict in the system. Moreover, though the karma of your parents can physically condition circumstances of your birth (a healthy mother, for instance, is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby than an unhealthy mother), your karma is your own, is specifically separate from that of your parents, and is not bound by their karma.
When compared to that system, a framework that posits inherited guilt before an external deity with determined condemnation on that basis alone looks … shallow and capricious. I was not particularly willing to exchange a framework with which I was comfortable for an inferior one, yet I was undeniably attracted to this Jesus of Nazareth.
While the percentage of people who formally adhere to an Eastern religion remains low in the United States, I think many people underestimate the extent to which that mindset has influenced our present culture. That influence will only deepen over time. While a proper Christian perspective of reality, of a good God who loves mankind, of a Lord who joins his nature with ours in order to rescue us from death provides, I think, a superior view of reality to the far Eastern one, much of what is espoused as Christian today does not. And this is one of the places where it does not at all. I’m sure that was a factor in my initial reaction against the Western doctrine of original sin.