Original Sin 24 – Romans 5:12

Posted: March 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 24 – Romans 5:12

Romans 5:12 is one of the verses most often cited in support of St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt. It’s also one of the texts that was mistranslated in the Latin text on which he relied. Here’s an English translation of the Latin text used by St. Augustine.

Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death was transmitted to all men, in whom all have sinned.

Connecting this to the Stoic philosophy of seminal reasons which we discussed earlier, St. Augustine read the last phrase of that verse to mean that all men died because all mankind sinned in Adam. However, that’s not what the verse actually says. Here’s the NKJV translation of the Greek text.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—

We didn’t all sin “in” Adam. Death spread to all men because all sinned. The problem, as we see in verse 14, was that death reigned over mankind. Adam, whose name means humanity, is the archetype for mankind. We inherit mortality. The nature of humanity was, in Adam, to die. The nature of humanity is now, in Christ, to live. This is such an important part of the Christian story about reality that, when it is missed, it almost begins to seem like people are telling a different story.

I recommend pausing to read St. John Chrysostom’s Homily X on Romans. However, here is the beginning and a comment specifically on verse 12.

As the best physicians always take great pains to discover the source of diseases, and go to the very fountain of the mischief, so doth the blessed Paul also. Hence after having said that we were justified, and having shown it from the Patriarch, and from the Spirit, and from the dying of Christ (for He would not have died unless He intended to justify), he next confirms from other sources also what he had at such length demonstrated. And he confirms his proposition from things opposite, that is, from death and sin. How, and in what way? He enquires whence death came in, and how it prevailed. How then did death come in and prevail? “Through the sin of one.” But what means, “for that all have sinned?” This; he having once fallen, even they that had not eaten of the tree did from him, all of them, become mortal.

Our inheritance is not the guilt of an ancestor. Our inheritance as human beings is mortality.


Original Sin 17 – Blocked Transmission

Posted: March 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In addition to the issue of Christ’s nature that I discussed yesterday, which I perceive as the central problem, the idea that all mankind naturally inherits guilt in a “sinful nature” but that Jesus didn’t tends to raise another question. How is it that Jesus did not inherit our nature of inherited guilt when he became human? It seems to me that many Protestants simply ignore the question. I could be wrong, of course. I’m hardly an expert on any Christian tradition. But that’s my impression. I am aware of two different ways this question is answered, though.

The first I remember hearing in a sermon from a Baptist minister when I was a teenager. It stuck in my head all these years because it sounded so strange to me at the time. I wasn’t sure at first if he was serious or not, but it quickly became apparent that he was. I have no clue how common or uncommon this idea might actually be. If anyone does know, feel free to add that information in the comments. Here’s the thread of the explanation as I recall it.

Because Adam ate knowingly and was not deceived like Eve, his offense was worse. Both ‘fell from grace’ with God, but it’s from Adam that the guilt of original sin is inherited. As a result, children ‘inherit’ their nature of original sin from their fathers, not their mothers. The guilt is transmitted through the male descendants to their offspring. Since Jesus did not have a human biological father, he did not inherit the nature of inherited guilt and was thus born free of original sin.

In my mind, even if I try to take the idea seriously, it immediately raises another question. It’s safe, I think, to assume that at some point in the future, we will be able to do in vitro fertilization from cellular genetic sources other than, strictly speaking, a female egg and a male sperm. Ignoring for the sake of this question the whole matter of bioethics and whether or not this is something we should do, let’s just assume it will happen. Does that then mean that a child conceived from the genetic material of two women would also be born without a nature of inherited guilt? And what about a child conceived from the genetic material of two men? Does that child get a double whammy of inherited guilt?

I might sound facetious. I’m trying not to be, but the idea still strikes me as absurd decades after I first heard it. But if that is truly what some people believe, they will need to face questions like that and figure out how they are going to answer them.

The other response to this question lies in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Roman Catholic Church. This is actually a more sophisticated dogma than the way it is sometimes portrayed by those outside the Church. It holds that Mary was miraculously preserved from the stain of the inherited guilt of original sin in order to provide a fitting womb for the infant Christ. It does not, as is sometimes said, that God could not have (or did not) simply preserved the infant Jesus from inheriting the stained nature of inherited guilt. It uses more the language of honor, reverence, and what was fitting. Also tied into this is the idea that Mary needed to be so preserved in order to offer her free assent to God.

I will note that the Immaculate Conception was fixed as dogma in the 19th century, so it’s a relatively recent Roman Catholic dogma. And I will also note that Eastern Christians, who certainly cannot be charged with a failure to hold the Theotokos in great honor and esteem, view it as unnecessary specifically because they do not agree that the state of sin for Adam’s transgression is transmitted to every human at conception. Although it retains much of the character of a mystery, it’s my understanding of the Roman Catholic teaching that though it is normal for human beings to inherit the guilt of Adam (which they do note is different in some sense from the guilt for acts we actually commit ourselves), God can intervene and prevent that from happening and he specifically did so with Mary and (I presume) Jesus.

The question that raises in my mind is probably different than the ones it raises for most people. My question is simple and direct. If God can choose to act to preserve people from inheriting some aspect of the guilt of their ancestor’s transgression without damaging their free will or their nature as his icons, why has he not chosen to do so for all people? After all, if the Christian God is truly a good God who loves mankind, we are under the curse of inherited guilt through no fault of our own, and he is able to simply free us from inheriting that guilt through a unilateral act, why hasn’t he done so for everyone?

If I were to accept any sense of original sin as inherited guilt, it would probably be the Roman Catholic version. It is the most nuanced and reasonable of all the variations. And yet it tends to collapse as well. In my mind the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not alleviate that underlying tension. It makes it worse instead.


Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Obviously, an exploration of the arc of the narrative of Scripture, even when trying to focus on a specific topic, could go on forever. I still have a good bit to explore in this series after I finish my “quick” look at the narrative, so I’ve narrowed this part of my series down to three more posts. These three posts will primarily shift over to the prophets. The prophets are an intriguing bunch. They were given a message from God to proclaim on behalf of God. And often that involved not just speaking it, but living that word in and through their bodies. When we look at the prophets, we get some of the clearest pre-Incarnation portraits of God in terms we can understand.

Yesterday, I explored how God’s rescue mission for mankind turned when God called a people for himself. And God’s relationship with that people can tell us a lot about his attitude toward all mankind. After all, the people of God are ultimately intended to spread through the nations like yeast (as Jesus notes), heal Babel (as we discover at Pentecost), and bring all peoples into the one people of God (as we see especially in Paul talking about the Church).

I’ve listened to many different Protestant denominations speak about God and man as informed by their perspective on the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt. And that perspective seems to require that God not only condemns mankind for their inherited guilt, but is ‘separated’ from man. A common image is one of a gulf or chasm between man and God. There seems to be this sense that unless you are repentant and “covered” by the blood of Jesus so that God can’t actually see you at all, but can only see Jesus, then God is repelled by your sin, condemns you, and is probably pissed off at you.

But does that really describe God? I would submit it can’t describe God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, since the entire Incarnation denies it. God draws completely near to us. He becomes one of us. And he seeks out the unrighteous and the unholy. In fact, that’s one of the complaints levied against Jesus, that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. But that image of God is not just denied in the Incarnation. I noted earlier in the series that God has always drawn near to us in the story of Scripture. And once he calls a people, he continues to draw near despite their unfaithfulness.

The clearest picture we see of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the face of her unfaithfulness is Hosea. Hosea is told by God to go marry a prostitute, love her, build a family around her. And when she returns to prostitution, laying with other men, he does not leave her in that state. No, Hosea goes to her, buys her back, and brings her home once more. Yes, Gomer suffered the consequences of her own actions. Their children also suffered the consequences of her actions (as told by the story of their names). But there is no sense that Gomer is judged for inherited guilt. And she is ultimately not condemned. Hosea redeems her, rescues her from the conditions in which she has placed herself.

So it is with God and Israel. God calls a people. And they remain his people. He draws near to them before they were his people and he keeps coming near to them even when they turn from him. Ultimately, of course, God comes completely near by joining his nature with ours in Jesus of Nazareth. This God doesn’t easily align with the image of a God who attributes the guilt of ancestors to descendants. It’s my observation that people tend to end up with some pretty distorted ideas about God when they try to simultaneously hold both images of God in their heads. There is just not sufficient correspondence between the two narratives.


Original Sin 7 – God & Man in the Creation Narratives

Posted: February 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 7 – God & Man in the Creation Narratives

This post is not going to be one that covers the few prooftexts in Scripture that generally tend to be the focus in discussions on the topic of original sin. I wanted to make sure at the outset that nobody reading this post did so with the wrong expectations. I will look at those specific texts later as I explore the historical context for the development of the idea of inherited guilt within some segments of Christianity. That’s where that particular discussion fits in my personal narrative and I think that’s the best context in which to discuss those few texts.

In this post I’m going to explore a few things about the God I found in the Holy Scriptures as I began to try to grasp the uniquely Christian narrative of God, Man, and their relation to each other. The Scriptures are an ancient text and that tends to make them a little harder for a modern American to read and truly understand. But these were hardly the first ancient texts or the first sacred writings I had ever explored and tried to understand. I recognized the challenge and knew that I would have to have a better grasp of both ancient and second temple Jewish culture. And to understand the new Testament, I would have to then perceive that culture’s interaction (in light of Christ) with the ancient Greco-Roman world (with which I already had a fair degree of familiarity).

So I read the Gospels (the obvious place to start) several times, trying to absorb what they said about Jesus of Nazareth. And I noticed something that caught my attention. Jesus insists, in more than one place, that the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings speak of him. It’s particularly dramatic in Luke on the road to Emmaus, but that’s hardly the only place. And so I began to gather the impression that it was not enough to simply have some understanding of ancient Jewish culture and historical context in order to read what we call the Old Testament. From a Christian perspective, it had to be read and interpreted through the lens of Christ, which means that a Jewish and a Christian reading of a text might very well be entirely different. I was also reading other ancient Christian writings and their authors confirmed my impression. Any and every Christian reading of our Holy Scriptures must first and foremost be christological in nature. The text is illuminated in and through Christ. I explain that because it conditions the way I read and understand the Holy Scriptures and thus necessarily frames the narrative arc I see in the text.

The best place to start, perhaps, is at the beginning. In the West, Genesis 3 is typically read as a story of legal violation and condemnation. The first man and woman are tempted. The first man and woman knowingly break God’s inviolable and holy law. The first man and woman are “separated” (now there’s a concept that requires very careful nuance and unfortunately rarely receives it) from God. The first man and woman are condemned by God to death and punishment and eternal torment in hell for their guilt for breaking God’s law. (And tied into that usually runs a thread that creates a problem for God either with his honor or his ability to forgive. Basically, you usually end up with a God who is either overly concerned about his honor or a God who cannot forgive an offense without payment. Now, that does not correlate very well at all with the God we find in scripture and it oversimplifies mankind’s problem and the measures necessary to save us. But that’s an entirely different series. Not this one.) And then their descendants, all of humanity, inherit from that first couple the guilt for their one violation of God’s command.

The problem with that narrative is that Genesis 3 simply doesn’t read that way without some serious distortion. That part of the narrative opens with the serpent telling the woman that she would not “die by death” from eating of the fruit. Instead, they would become like gods — a short and easy path to deification. (Ironically, God had created humanity in his image to bless creation and to grow and mature into communion with God. But the proper path was through obedience and faithfulness rather than disobedience and faithlessness. The serpent tempted the first couple with a false path toward the goal for which they were intended in their creation.) When they eat, their eyes are opened and they know shame, something they had never previously known.

So now they are condemned by God and “separated” from him, right? So then why is it that the next twist in the story is that God comes looking for them? They have tried to turn from God. They have moved away from their only source of life. In effect, they are seeking a non-existence they have no power to attain (since everything is sustained by and contingent on God who is everywhere present and filling all things). Hiding from their only source of life, they are mortal and are now ruled by death. But God does not permit that separation. And in this first turn of the story, we immediately see Jesus, also called Immanuel — God with us. We hide. God comes to us.

And what does God do? He curses the serpent. But the man and the woman suffer the natural consequences for their choices. Moreover, all creation is cursed, not by God (read it carefully), but by us. And God tells us that we are formed from the earth, and it is only when the clay is joined with God’s breath that we become a living soul. So, having turned from God’s breath, from God’s life, we are dust returning to dust. And yet, we are also eikons of God — a God who does not begrudge any of his creation existence — and as images of God, however damaged, we have no means of completely ceasing to exist. (That’s the source of the description of death as Sheol, Hades, or Hel — in Jewish and Christian rather than pagan terms. We became ruled by death and descended into it, but were unable to pass completely into non-existence. That was mankind’s ultimate plight from which we needed rescue. That’s why our problem required a solution as utterly amazing and unimagined as the Incarnation.)

And then God clothes the man and the woman. He covers their shame. But in that act, I also see a prefiguration of the Incarnation. Jesus takes on our nature in order to clothe the nature of man with the divine nature and through that union to heal and transform the nature of man.

And finally, lest we bind ourselves forever in ever corrupting flesh, God seals us from any other path to a sort of fleshly immortality that would not heal our corrupted nature and bodies. It’s clear in the story that he does this as an act of love and mercy on our behalf.

So tell me, where in this story is man truly “separated” from God. Yes, we try to turn from God. We try to hide from God. But God searches for us. God clothes us. God protects us. We have created a sort of separation from God our source of life within ourselves. That is true. But God never draws away from man in the story.

And where does God condemn man? Yes, he describes the consequences humanity will suffer flowing from our turn from him. And God describes how through that turn from him, we have cursed creation and creation will therefore no longer exist in harmony with us. And yet even as he describes the consequences, he gives the first promise that he is working to solve the problem. The promised seed of the woman is Christ. In the story, God does not condemn us. Instead, he immediately promises to rescue us from our own folly.

The God in our text, the God revealed to us in Jesus, is not a God of condemnation. He is not a stiff and unforgiving God. He is a God who overflows with mercy, a God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive, a God whose justice is love. We’ll look more at that God in the arc of scripture tomorrow. I don’t know a whole lot about our sacred text. I still feel woefully ignorant. But nowhere do I see the story of the sort of God who condemns all of humanity for the inherited guilt of a single act by a single pair of distant ancestors.


Original Sin 6 – Guilt vs. Consequences

Posted: February 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 6 – Guilt vs. Consequences

I realized that while the distinction between guilt and consequences in the context of this series is one that is clear to me, I haven’t written anything in this series to explicitly draw that distinction. And it will become increasingly important as the series progresses. So I’ve decided this will be the topic for today’s post. The next post will be my first one directly venturing into my early interactions with the narrative text of the Holy Scriptures on this topic.

In my second post of the series, I tried to outline the specific shape of the problem of defining original sin as inherited guilt. In other words, before God as judge, each person is born already condemned or guilty as a result of their inherited guilt for the actions of some distant ancestor. However, the fact that I reject that perspective does not then mean that I believe that any of us are somehow free from the actions and choices of our parents and ancestors. Nobody starts life with a clean slate completely free from the influence of anyone but themselves. But the language for what we experience is not properly the language of guilt or innocence. It is the language of consequences.

And yes, just as I did in the second post of the series, I have a brief thought exercise that should help clarify the difference. So once again, I ask you to engage your imagination and travel with me on a short excursion.

A woman, perhaps as a teenager interacting with the wrong group of people and making poor choices, begins to experiment with illegal drugs and eventually becomes addicted to crack cocaine. As an addict, she continues to make poor choices and becomes pregnant. Over the course of her pregnancy, this woman continues to be ruled by her addiction and keeps using crack. Eventually, she goes into labor and delivers a daughter. Because of her mother’s illegal drug use during pregnancy, the little girl is born with crack cocaine in her system, already addicted to it. She is what we call a “crack baby.”

None of us would consider arresting that baby for the juridical crime of using illegal drugs. No judge or jury would find the poor infant guilty for the crime of her mother. In fact, we would in most cases take the child from the mother, not as some form of punishment, but in order to protect that helpless infant girl from further harm. The mother may have committed a crime, but the baby girl did not inherit the mother’s moral or legal guilt for that crime.

However, that infant was born into and bearing the consequences of her mother’s decisions and actions. Those consequences cannot be escaped. Depending on the circumstances and severity the child may suffer lasting physical or mental damage. Even if she escapes with no permanent physical damage, she is still beginning life without the safety and stability of a home with parents. That little girl will suffer to some extent the consequences of her birth flowing from the actions of her mother. She need not be ruled by them. People often manage to overcome the circumstances of their birth in amazing ways. But she will not be able to escape those circumstances.

The same thing is true for us all, though usually not in as clear a manner as in my little story. We are born into a dangerous and disordered world. We are born mortal and subject to death. We are born to parents who have been shaped themselves by that reality. We are surrounded by human beings also shaped by those same forces. In Christian terminology (which I am still not always comfortable using), we are born into a fallen creation and we suffer the natural consequences thereof. Moreover, we specifically suffer the consequences of our parents’ choices and actions. We might be born into poverty or wealth (and neither are free from pitfalls) as a result of what our parents (or their ancestors) have done. We might be born into a family engulfed by a multi-generational cycle of abuse. We might be born into families ruled by addictions. But even if we escape the most obvious sorts of negative consequences of our birth, we are still mortal. And it’s still a disordered and sometimes even dangerous world in which we live.


Original Sin 5 – Evolution

Posted: February 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

As I began to record my thoughts for today’s post, it dawned on me that the route this series is taking might seem to be a strange and circuitous one to some of those reading it. In part, I believe that is due to the way I’ve chosen to develop it. I’m writing from the perspective of my own personal interaction with this idea as I journeyed into my present Christian faith. As such, even though I am compressing and abridging that interaction, the shape of the series necessarily follows something like the shape of my own journey. And that also means that the series will explore problems and questions first; answers come later for I began to discover them later. It also means the issues, problems, and questions I encountered may not necessarily be the same ones someone else encounters in their journey. Though I mentioned my approach at the outset, I thought I should clarify. I realized that yesterday’s post and today’s might seem like a strange detour to some reading.

Yesterday I briefly discussed karma to illustrate how I was unwilling to exchange a framework with which I was pretty comfortable for an inferior one. That was tinged by an early recognition on my part that I could not continue to hold both. At a very deep level, the narrative of Resurrection is very different from and incompatible with the narrative within which karma functions. I would not say I suddenly dropped one and embraced the other. It was a lengthier process than that. But it did become clear from an early point — St. John the Theologian’s Gospel had a lot to do with that illumination — that if I continued my journey into Christianity, at some point I would shift narrative frameworks. (Although it’s not exactly relevant to this series, I’m struck by the manner in which so many modern Christians don’t seem to realize just how revolutionary, transforming, and counter-intuitive the narrative of Resurrection is.)

I was shaped and formed within the context of an extended family of scientists and artists. (I’ll also point out those are not mutually exclusive categories. Many in my family are both scientists and artists of one sort or another.) While I’m neither, at least in any realized form, I’ve always lived and breathed within the framework of both. My father is a geneticist and spent his career doing research. While, as I outlined above, I foresaw the need and was not unwilling to exchange my narrative framework of the broader context of reality (some might call it a metaphysical framework, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that word as it means very different things to different people) for a Christian one, I was never willing to adopt a framework that sat in opposition to the scientific narrative of physical reality. (Nor is there anyone who reasonably should. The larger frameworks — Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Atheist, etc. — operate beyond the scope of the scientific narrative.) It’s an unfortunate reality that so many modern Christians have allowed their Christian narrative to shrink either to an alternative and opposing perspective or to one which is smaller than and fits inside the narrative of science rather than the other way around. But I was never tempted in either direction.

Why does that matter? Long before I found the root of the idea behind the notion of original sin as inherited guilt in ancient Greek philosophy, I recognized one key weakness in it from a natural perspective. If all human beings who presently or have ever lived have inherited the moral and juridical guilt of the first man who “sinned” against God, then that means that all human beings must be descended from a single pair of ancestors (or at least from the original “guilty” one). And we now know, with near certainty, that that is not the case. The science is beyond the scope of this series. Moreover, it’s not a field in which I can claim any sort of personal expertise and I don’t trust myself to communicate my understanding of it clearly. Nevertheless, the evidence is pretty convincing and I encourage anyone interested to explore it on your own.

I had ample reasons from my perspective to set aside the idea of inherited guilt without even considering this particular issue. Nevertheless, I did see this problem early and was unwilling to adopt a “faith” that stood in opposition to pretty clear natural evidence. I don’t particularly care myself whether or not humanity originated with a single couple nor do I know many scientists with a vested interest either way. But the evidence does not seem to support such an idea, and I’m not interested in making something so shaky a “linchpin” of my larger narrative framework. Mine already don’t tend to be as strongly held or constructed as they seem to be for many people. I’m not interested in deliberately weakening it with such comparatively fragile pieces.

As an aside, I will note that it’s my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church, which is the tradition within which the idea of original sin as inherited guilt originally flowered toward the end of the first millenium of Christianity, does in some way reconcile scientific evidence with the overarching idea of inherited guilt. Although I have had numerous interactions with Roman Catholicism over the course of my life and have Catholic family and friends, I wandered into Christianity myself in an evangelical Southern Baptist context. So I must confess I don’t know how the Roman Catholic Church reconciles this specific issue. If anyone does know, feel free to share that information in the comments.

Finally, though not really related to the topic of this series, I will note that I’m also not tied to the idea that within the context of created time, there was ever a specific point in time when creation was not disordered as a result of sin. According to Christian faith, human beings were created as eikons (icons or images) of the uncreated God for the purpose of reflecting God into creation and for communion with God. Time itself is a creation of God, not uncreated. If we were created, in part, to reflect the uncreated energies into creation, then it seems to me that normal perceptions of causal effect might not apply in this regard. I’m comfortable with the idea that creation has been disordered and groaning from the beginning as a result of our failure to fill our proper role within it. And I’m comfortable with the idea that even as we are born into a “fallen” creation, “inheriting” death, we also participate actively in the fall of Man and the disordering of creation when we each choose to abandon our eucharistic (thanksgiving) role. I tend to view being “in Adam” or “in Christ” in more active than passive or static terms.

I will also note, however, that we see a marked increase in the disordering of creation as soon as man took an active hand in it. Even with very primitive tools, we hunted entire species to extinction and contributed (although mildly by modern standards) to climate change. And those are just examples that can be measured from a perspective that is millenia removed. Paul’s analogy of creation groaning is an apt one, indeed.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on some of the problems the idea of inherited guilt creates within the Christian scriptural narrative.


Original Sin 2 – Inherited Guilt

Posted: February 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 2 – Inherited Guilt

Before we can begin any discussion of Original Sin, of course, I think it’s important to provide some context and definition for the idea we will be discussing. (Or on which I’ll be having a monologue if nobody else has anything to say.) When I use the term, I have in mind the idea, first articulated as such by St. Augustine, that when Adam sinned, we all — as his descendants — participated in his sin and are thus born already judged guilty by God of Adam’s sin and, as a result of Adam’s actions, condemned to death and eternal punishment in hell. In other words, the entire concept hinges on the idea of inherited guilt. As the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we are held accountable for their actions and crimes against God’s law. We are born juridically condemned for their acts. We are judged guilty at birth even though we have not yet decided or done anything ourselves.

Now, let’s consider this idea of inherited guilt apart from anything to do with Christianity, faith, or spirituality for a minute. A pretty simple story, a thought experiment if you will, should help put this idea into context.

Let’s say there was a notorious Nazi guard at Auschwitz during WWII. This guard actively participated in the torture and mass execution of many, many people. He was known and feared by many in the concentration camp and remembered by the survivors. Yet, in the confusion at the end of the war, he managed to escape, change his name, and build a new life for himself. Over time, he married, had three children, thirteen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom is just two weeks old. Finally, as an old man, his true identity is discovered and he is prosecuted for the crimes against humanity he committed as an Auschwitz prison guard. In due course, the international court finds him guilty of those crimes and sentences him to life in prison.

However, the court does not stop there. It also finds that as his direct descendants, his three children, thirteen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren (even the youngest who is now six months old in the narrative of our thought experiment) are also guilty of crimes against humanity. As the Nazi guard’s descendants, they are equally guilty for the acts of their ancestor, even though they had no knowledge of those actions and the acts themselves occurred long before they were even born. They share the same judicial condemnation and sentence as their ancestor. They are all sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of parole from the oldest to the youngest.

Would we call that justice? And yet it is precisely the scenario put forth by those who teach that juridical guilt can be and is inherited. At a later juncture, I will probably explore some of the historical framework and context for the development of this idea. But this post should help put into context the idea of “original sin” that I will be exploring in this series.