In Defense Of Food 2 – The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization

Posted: March 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The second section of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto, shifts from nutritionism to the factors involved in the development of what we tend to call the “Western Diet” and the impact of that diet on our overall health. In the section, Pollan explores some of the well-documented studies both of the negative impact the Western diet has on aboriginals and others when they are first exposed to it and on the health improvements when people return to their traditional diet. Those of us who have lived with the Western diet now for multiple generations have adapted slightly — at least our tolerance for it seems to be greater. But we do develop many of the same health issues over the course of our lives. The “food” (using the term loosely) we eat is killing us, even if it’s not killing us a quickly as it does groups who are newly exposed to it.

The book explores a number of trends that led to the modern Western diet. The first of these trends was the shift from whole foods to refined. The roller-milling revolution around 1870 was the first huge leap forward in this trend and we have since forgotten the epidemics of pellagra and beriberi caused by vitamin deficiencies that resulted from it. In short, refined foods of all sorts deliver glucose to the system faster than whole foods. Our brains like that since glucose is what fuels them. But we are drowning ourselves now in a flood of glucose and in the marriage of glucose and fructose we call sucrose. Moreover, when you refine something, you are always taking something out of it.

The next trend has been the shift from complexity to simplicity in our food chain. Agricultural industrialization, for instance, has focused on the big three macronutrients — nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) — while largely ignoring the importance of biological activity in the soil. That has forced crops to live essentially on the three macronutrients alone in chemically enhanced and sometimes almost sterile soil. Chemically simplified soil produces chemically simplified plants. The process of refining also often involves simplification. In the case above of white flour, we removed the germ, simplifying the result, but at the cost of vitamins we needed. We can then try to add them back into the refined product, which is what we do with enriched flour, but we can only try to put back in what we realize we are now missing. Moreover, we often don’t know how. Destroying complexity is a lot easier than creating it.

We have also shifted from quality to quantity. As we have specifically bred for plant species that produce more, we have reduced the nutritional value of the whole food itself. One example Pollan gives is that you would have to eat three modern apples to get the same amount of iron you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple. Even when we do eat whole foods, we’re getting substantially less nutrition per calorie than we used to. It’s not just a result of selective breeding, but also of the way we produce the food. Food grown in the aforementioned chemically simplified soil grows larger faster, but also has less time to absorb nutrients from the soil (and the soil itself contains fewer that the crops can absorb.) We’ve done much the same thing to our meat and dairy animals. We have bred for quantity over quality and by feeding them nutritionally deficient diets combined with growth hormones and antibiotics we further reduce the nutritional content.

Next, we have shifted the core of our diet from leaves to seeds. The small handful of plants that now make up the bulk of our diet (wheat, corn, soy, and rice) are all seeds rather than leaves. In an industrialized, highly processed food world, there’s good reason for that. Seeds are much more durable and longer lasting than leaves. They can be stored for long periods of time, which means they can function as a commodities as well as food. Since we have shifted our diets and the diets of our food animals from leaves to seeds, one of the effects has been a dramatic shift in the balance of omegas-3s and omega-6s in our body. We don’t yet fully know why that is as bad for us as it has proven to be, but there’s not much doubt that it has been a pretty negative shift with some dramatic health consequences. And that is just one documented result.

Finally, we have shifted from food culture to food science. Throughout the history of mankind, we have typically relied on national, ethnic, or regional cultures for guidance on what and how to eat. Both of those appear to have been much more important than we credited. I like Pollan’s way of relating “food culture” as another word for “mom” — that is, the figure who normally has passed along the food knowledge of the group. We now rely on “food science” to guide us in our food choices (with 17,000 new products introduced each year), but that “science” has been remarkably flawed over the years for a variety of reasons. Instead of doing something to recover a healthy culture of food, we are developing new “health care” industries to deal with the fallout of our poor diets.

Most of the profit driving our food industries, though, lies in the heavily processed and industrially grown foods. You can quickly develop a new or reformulated processed food to follow every trend and fad. But you can’t change a carrot into something else overnight.


In Defense Of Food 1 – The Age of Nutritionism

Posted: March 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The first section of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto, explores the process by which we shifted from talking about foods to talking about nutrients. It’s an interesting history covering the last couple of hundred years. We have repeatedly thought we’ve unlocked the secrets of animal nutrition only to discover again and again that we were sadly mistaken — usually at the cost of human lives.

We have reached a juncture where we can reduce food to its component chemical elements, but we cannot construct equivalent food from those elements. Apparently, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. One example Pollan uses is infant formula. Early attempts were disastrous, but even today our efforts cannot equal a mother’s breast milk. Now, that’s not to say that our efforts to produce a life-sustaining formula are not valuable. After all, in the past if a mother died or could not produce milk, and a wet nurse could not be quickly found, infants generally died. Nevertheless, the best formula we are able to produce remains distinctly inferior to breast milk, as study after study has demonstrated.

The central idea of nutritionism is that it is the individual nutrients that matter and thus “food” is simply a delivery mechanism and something which is no more (and might be less) than the sum of its parts. Moreover, every “good” nutrient has as its foil a “bad” nutrient. We’ve seen that battle waged again and again with an ever-changing cast of “good” and “bad” nutrients. Indeed, as the drama between butter and margarine has illustrated, nutrients and their delivery foods tend to flip-flop from bad to good and back again over time.

The primary purpose of nutritionism seems to be to place the emphasis on nutrients rather than the actual foods themselves. When that is accomplished, then even the most heavily processed foods can claim to be as healthy as unprocessed whole foods. As Michael Pollan drily notes, “How convenient.” And when you look at the history, you find processed commercial products linked to most of the past and present claims of nutritionism.

The food industry has waged an ongoing war to shape laws, regulations, and our perception of reality. One example the book provides is the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That law required that the word “imitation” appear on any food product that was, for lack of a better word, an imitation. The book quotes an excerpt of that law.

“… there are certain traditional foods that everyone knows, such as bread, milk, and cheese, and that when consumers buy these foods, they should get the foods they are expecting … [and] if a food resembles a standardized food but does not comply with the standard, that food must be labeled as an ‘imitation.'”

Our food industry lobbied for decades against that law, and though the law itself has never been changed, in 1973 they succeeded in getting the FDA to essentially undo it through regulation. And that’s truly a shame. If the buttermilk-like chemical concoctions you find on the shelves today had to label themselves as ‘imitation buttermilk’, I bet I would still be able to find the real thing more often and more easily. The same is true for a host of other foods.

Pollan walks through a number of claims nutritionism has made and the studies that have reversed those claims. He spends the most time deconstructing the “lipid hypothesis”, which is basically the claim that dietary fat is bad for you. The scientific evidence coming out now from Harvard and multiple other research centers is that there is simply no scientific support for the claims linking dietary fat to heart disease, cancer, or even body fat itself. It was an interesting idea that everyone bought into for decades, but it turns out the hypothesis never actually had any basis in reality. In fact, acting on it as though it were true appears to have adversely affected our health. Go figure.

In summary, Pollan builds a well-constructed,  thoroughly sourced argument against most of the claims of “nutrition science” over the last century in this section of his book. Given that I’ve lived through the past several decades of changes in foods and the flood of nutrition claims followed by subsequent reversals of those claims, I find it a perfectly credible history. Read it for yourself and decide.


In Defense Of Food 0 – Introductory Thoughts

Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on In Defense Of Food 0 – Introductory Thoughts

Last week I read Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto. It’s quite well written and thoroughly sourced. He’s a journalist, not a scientist, but he is an academic as well and certainly able to document and defend his ideas. I plan to devote a post reviewing each of the three sections of his book. Pollan’s basic premise is actually simple and he unveils it immediately in the introduction.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done in the United States today. The first two sections explore why it has become so difficult and the last section explores ways to overcome those difficulties. If more of us begin to “vote” with our wallets, we may begin to have a real impact.

For the past year, since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I’ve had to actually read and analyze the full ingredient list on absolutely everything (other than fresh produce)  before I eat it. I already knew that some common things were actually imitations, of course. For example, I’ve loved buttermilk my whole life. And it’s next to impossible to actually buy real buttermilk anywhere. Read the label on the “buttermilk” in the store next time you go shopping. Odds are it’s not actually buttermilk at all, but rather a chemical concoction designed to emulate the taste and texture of buttermilk. However, I didn’t realize until I began reading all labels just how little of our food is actually the food itself and how much is a processed imitation. That heavy whipping cream? Probably not real cream or at least not just cream. Those potato chips? You won’t find more than a few that are really just sliced, fried, and salted potatoes. Check that butter to see if it’s really just butter. Most of what is sold as “yogurt” is a lot more than milk with bacterial cultures. I even have to watch out for supposedly “raw” meat. It sometimes comes with a list of ingredients as well.

I’m not the sort of person who was blithely unaware of the health implications of processed foods. I grew up in a family that frequented health food stores and subscribed to Mother Earth News back in the 70s. My parents gardened so much that I was sick of it by the time I became an adult. We had a yogurt maker to make our own yogurt from scratch. My father co-authored an Indian cookbook and began teaching me how to cook (and letting me experiment) by the time I was in 5th grade. I’ve been somewhat aware of food and environmental concerns my whole life and have been partially engaged. I have friends with various sorts of food allergies and sensitivities and know their struggles. Even given all that background, I’ve been surprised this past year by just how difficult it is today to find real food.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the Internet allows me to research each individual chemical ingredient and additive so I haven’t had to completely eliminate such things from my diet simply because I had no idea what it was. But I feel like cheering anytime I  find a short ingredient list with normal things in it that I recognize without online research. I find that I buy more from non-US companies.

Tasty Bites is a good example of one such company. In order to illustrate my point, let’s take a simple product like unflavored rice. Here is Tasty Bites microwaveable basmati rice. Look at the ingredients. There are three of them: water, basmati rice, and sunflower oil. That’s it. Short, simple, and easy to decipher. Compare that to the ingredients in Uncle Ben’s Basmati Ready Rice product (one of the shortest ingredient lists of all the Ready Rice products): WATER; BASMATI RICE; CANOLA OIL AND/OR SUNFLOWER OIL; SOY LECHITHIN; NIACIN; IRON (FERRIC ORTHOPHOSPHATE); THIAMINE (THIAMINE MONONITRATE); FOLATE (FOLIC ACID). I happen to know that most of that list represents an attempt to add “nutrients” into the processed rice. But I think it illustrates the point. Moreover, the Tasty Bites rice, simple as it is, tastes better than Uncle Ben’s processed rice product.

Or let’s look at a more complicated Tasty Bites product, their Zesty Lentils & Peas. Here is its ingredient list: Water, Bengal Lentils, Green Peas, Yellow Peas, Red Pepper, Coriander, Sunflower Oil, Sugar, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Cumin, Chilies. It’s a longer list, but every single one of those ingredients is easily recognizable. Moreover, they are all food, not chemical additives or heavily processed food-like substances. Tasty Bites is just one example company, but it illustrates the lie that packaged foods require a preservative chemical bath. It’s a lie that too many of us have swallowed without question and authors like Michael Pollan are beginning to expose it.


Original Sin 29 – Paschal Homily

Posted: March 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 29 – Paschal Homily

It seemed fitting to me to end this series with the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. Take some time to read it and reflect upon it.

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.


Original Sin 28 – Original Sin According to St. Paul

Posted: March 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I have read the article, Original Sin According to St. Paul, by John S. Romanides, several times and I believe I’ve absorbed its main points. This is a modern Orthodox theological paper written in light of interaction with Western thought. As such, it has some points that fit well with this series. I encourage anyone interested to go read the full article. Romanides begins with an exploration of fallen creation and makes an important point.

Whether or not belief in the present, real and active power of Satan appeals to the Biblical theologian, he cannot ignore the importance that St. Paul attributes to the power of the devil. To do so is to completely misunderstand the problem of original sin and its transmission and so misinterpret the mind of the New Testament writers and the faith of the whole ancient Church. In regard to the power of Satan to introduce sin into the life of every man, St. Augustine in combating Pelagianism obviously misread St. Paul. by relegating the power of Satan, death, and corruption to the background and pushing to the foreground of controversy the problem of personal guilt in the transmission of original sin, St. Augustine introduced a false moralistic philosophical approach which is foreign to the thinking of St. Paul and which was not accepted by the patristic tradition of the East.

As I mentioned yesterday, the power of corruption and death is active and personal, not passive. Moreover, deliberately or not, the sort of thinking the West employs about original sin leads to a certain sort of metaphysical dualism.

It is obvious from St. Paul’s expressions concerning fallen creation, Satan, and death, that there is no room in his thinking for any type of metaphysical dualism, of departmentalization which would make of this world and intermediary domain which for man is merely a stepping stone leading either into the presence of God or into the kingdom of Satan. The idea of a three story universe, whereby God and His company of saints and angels occupy the top floor, the devil the basement, and man in the flesh the middle, has no room in Pauline theology. For Paul, all three orders of existence interpenetrate. There is no such thing as a middle world of neutrality where man can live according to natural law and then be judged for a life of happiness in the presence of God or for a life of torment in the pits of outer darkness. On the contrary, all of creation is the domain of God, Who Himself cannot be tainted with evil. But in His domain there are other wills which He has created, which can choose either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of death and destruction.

Does not the above accurately describe the way many Christians and non-Christians alike in our country today view the Christian story of reality, as a sort of three story universe? Fr. Stephen Freeman has an excellent article on that very subject, Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. I highly recommend it.

Then, in the second section, Romanides attacks the resulting view of God’s justice, that essentially makes God responsible for death.

On the other hand, it is a grave mistake to make the justice of God responsible for death and corruption. Nowhere does Paul attribute the beginnings of death and corruption to God. On the contrary, nature was subjected to vanity and corruption by the devil, who through the sin and death of the first man managed to lodge himself parasitically within creation, of which he was already a part but at first not yet its tyrant. For Paul, the transgression of the first man opened the way for the entrance of death into the world, but this enemy is certainly not the finished product of God. Neither can the death of Adam, or even of each man, be considered the outcome of any decision of God to punish. St. Paul never suggests such an idea.

Rather, as the nature of the Trinity itself suggests, the problem is deeply relational.

The relationships which exist among God, man and the devil are not according to rules and regulations, but according to personalistic freedom. The fact that there are laws forbidding one from killing his neighbor does not imply the impossibility of killing not only one, but hundreds of thousands of neighbors. If man can disregard rules and regulations of good conduct, certainly the devil cannot be expected to follow such rules if he can help it. St. Paul’s version of the devil is certainly not that of one who is simply obeying general rules of nature and carrying out the will of God by punishing souls in hell. Quite on the contrary, he is fighting God dynamically by means of all possible deception, trying by all his cunning and power to destroy the works of God.

In the last section of the paper, Romanides dives deeply into Greek and Hebrew meanings, understandings, and interpretations. I believe I’ve read it enough times to absorb the points, but I don’t know either language and don’t trust myself to summarize them. It’s an important section, but if you are interested, you need to go read it yourself. His first concluding observation, though, is one I’ve made in this series.

St. Paul does not say anywhere that the whole human race has been accounted guilty of the sin of Adam and is therefore punished by God with death. Death is an evil force which made its way into the world through sin, lodged itself in the world, and, in the person of Satan, is reigning both in man and creation. For this reason, although man can know the good through the law written in his heart and may wish to do what is good, he cannot because of the sin which is dwelling in his flesh. Therefore, it is not he who does the evil, but sin that dwelleth in him. Because of this sin, he cannot find the means to do good. He must be saved from “the body of this death.” Only then can he do good. What can Paul mean by such statements? A proper answer is to be found only when St. Paul’s doctrine of human destiny is taken into account.

If man was created for a life of complete selfless love, whereby his actions would always be directed outward, toward God and neighbor, and never toward himself–whereby he would be the perfect image and likeness of God–then it is obvious that the power of death and corruption has now made it impossible to live such a life of perfection. The power of death in the universe has brought with it the will for self-preservation, fear, and anxiety, which in turn are the root causes of self-assertion, egoism, hatred, envy and the like. Because man is afraid of becoming meaningless, he is constantly endeavoring to prove, to himself and others, that he is worth something. He thirsts after compliments and is afraid of insults. He seeks his own and is jealous of the successes of others. He likes those who like him, and hates those who hate him. He either seeks security and happiness in wealth, glory and bodily pleasures, or imagines that this destiny is to be happy in the possession of the presence of God by an introverted and individualistic and inclined to mistake his desires for self-satisfaction and happiness for his normal destiny. On the other hand, he can become zealous over vague ideological principles of love for humanity and yet hate his closest neighbors. These are the works of the flesh of which St. Paul speaks. Underlying every movement of what the world has come to regard as normal man, is the quest for security and happiness. But such desires are not normal. They are the consequences of perversion by death and corruption, though which the devil pervades all of creation, dividing and destroying. This power is so great that even if man wishes to live according to his original destiny it is impossible because of the sin which is dwelling in the flesh — “Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”

It does not seem to me that there is any way to reconcile the Eastern and Western perspectives on this question. They say very different things about the nature of man, the nature of God, the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection,  the purpose of the Church, and the underlying nature of reality. Not only that, they frequently say opposing things. I think you just have to decide which you believe.


Original Sin 27 – Ancestral Sin

Posted: March 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 27 – Ancestral Sin

Ancestral sin is the term the Orthodox sometimes use to describe the biblical account of Adam. But there is no single term or description in the Eastern Church like we find in the West. No single idea came to dominate the East the way that Augustine’s idea of original sin as inherited guilt came to dominate Western thought and belief. That’s one of the reasons why, toward the beginning of this series I described my encounter with Eastern theology as a discovery that what I already believed about original sin fit within the spectrum of Eastern belief.

There is no way I can trace all the strains and strands of thought on this topic over the past twenty centuries in the Eastern Church. I’m sure I don’t even know them all myself. However, they do generally share a number of common elements and I’ll spend a little bit of time examining a few of them.

Before we begin to examine the ancestral sin, though, I think I want to start with one of the basic lens through which the Eastern Church views reality. Exploring it properly would take a series of its own, but it seems to me that an understanding of the ancestral sin is deeply linked to how you understand mankind’s fundamental problem which, by extension, is also creation’s problem.

In the West, mankind’s problem is seen primarily as guilt before God. We have broken some sort of law and as a result have besmirched God’s infinite honor or owe God an infinite debt. The controlling metaphor becomes the metaphor of the court, though when you push the metaphor you reach its limits pretty quickly and it begins to fall apart. Augustinian original sin, then, becomes a way to explain how every person is born guilty before God, for it is certainly true that we all share in the common plight of mankind from the moment of our birth.

In the East, however, mankind’s primary problem has always been recognized in our mortality and resulting bondage to the passions. Humanity’s problem is that we are enslaved to death and sin. Moreover, our bondage is not merely to a passive or impersonal force. The “prince of the power of the air” and all the other powers actively use the power of death and sin to rule us. The controlling metaphor is the metaphor of disease and slavery. The Church is the hospital for the sick. And Jesus is the one who liberated mankind from the bondage of sin and death. (This is, of course, why Moses is read as a type of Christ throughout the NT.)

As a result, the same sort of all-encompassing explanation that is needed in the West in order to explain how we can all be born guilty has never been needed in the East. We are, after all, born human. We are born mortal into a creation disordered by sin. That is almost self-evident. No other special condition is required.

In that light, the story of Adam can simply be read and understood the way that St. Paul reads it in Romans 5 — typologically. Adam is the type, in a negative sense, of Christ. And he represents (as his name indicates) mankind itself. We are born in Adam. We are born subject to death. We are reborn in Christ, with whom our life is hid in God.

Most notably, Christ was not paying a debt we owed to God on the Cross. Here, I believe it’s important to reflect on the words of St. Gregory the Theologian.

The question is: to whom was offered the blood that was shed for us, and why was it offered, this precious and glorious blood of our God, our high priest, our sacrifice? We were held captive by the evil one, for we had been ‘sold into the bondage of sin’ (Romans 7:14), and our wickedness was the price we paid for our pleasure. Now, a ransom is normally paid only to the captor, and so the question is: To whom was the ransom offered, and why? To the evil one? What an outrage! If it is supposed not merely that the thief received a ransom from God, but that the ransom is God himself – a payment for his act of arbitrary power so excessive that it certainly justified releasing us! If it was paid to the Father, I ask first, why? We were not held captive by him. Secondly, what reason can be given why the blood of the Only-begotten should be pleasing to the Father? For He did not accept even Isaac when he was offered by his father, but He gave a substitute for the sacrifice, a lamb to take the place of the human victim. Is it not clear that the Father accepts the sacrifice, not because He demanded or needed it, but because this was the part of the divine plan, since man had to be sanctified by the humanity of God; so that he might rescue us by overcoming the tyrant by force, and bring us back to Himself through the mediation of the Son, who carried out this divine plan to the honor of the Father, to whom he clearly delivers up all things. We have said just so much about Christ. There are many more things which must be passed over in silence…

A ransom is paid to a captor and we were enslaved by death. On the Cross, death thought it had swallowed a man and discovered it had swallowed God. The grave was burst asunder. Hades was emptied!

It’s a different lens through which to interpret reality than the dominant Western lens. As a result, the question of Adam’s “original sin” does not have the same prominence beyond its relatively straightforward typological meaning.


Original Sin 26 – So how did this idea come to dominate in the West?

Posted: March 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 26 – So how did this idea come to dominate in the West?

The question of how the idea of original sin as inherited guilt (along with other distinct differences) rose to dominance in the Western Christian world is actually a pretty interesting historical question. In order to begin to understand it, one has to step back into the ancient world within which Christianity formed and took root. For good reason, we tend to associate Christianity with the rise of Western civilization. The two are often so deeply intertwined in our minds, that we tend to unconsciously assume that Christianity is a Western religion.

But it’s not. And the world of those first centuries was a very different one. In that world, what we call the West was the frontier of the Roman Empire. Within the context of Christianity, only one Apostolic See was established — the one in Rome. In the East, by way of contrast, there were four Apostolic sees or patriarchates: Jerusalem (the oldest), Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. (According to tradition it’s said that the Apostle Andrew founded the church that eventually became the See of Constantinople, but the actual elevation of Constantinople to the level of the other Sees probably stems from the same reason that Rome itself was originally included. They were both capitol cities of the Empire. And as the status of Rome declined, that of Constantinople rose. If the realities of political and geographic realities had not played a part in the status and importance of some of the Apostolic Sees, then one would expect to see Ephesus, for example, among them.)

By the time of St. Augustine, the division of language between the Latin West and the Greek East had become more pronounced than it had ever been before. The days of a sole emperor were largely gone and the Empire itself was more strongly divided into a Western Empire under Rome and an Eastern Empire under Constantinople than it had generally been before. The East had Persia as its biggest rival; the threat that Islam became did not yet exist. While Christianity and trade still tied East and West together, those bonds were growing weaker.

In that context, we have to add the fact that St. Augustine stood head and shoulders intellectually above anyone in the Latin West while the East retained many equal voices. Moreover St. Augustine did not write in Greek nor did he like to read Greek. Thus he did not interact with the Eastern Fathers theologically and it doesn’t seem that any of those in the East ever read St. Augustine’s theological works. It doesn’t appear that they were even translated into Greek until many centuries later. St. John Cassian (who I believe is the only Western saint with writings included, for example, in the Philokalia) did try to mediate some of the places where St. Augustine went too far, but his efforts were less appreciated in the West.

As a result, St. Augustine became the dominant interpretive voice in the West in a way that no single person ever became in the East. His interpretations eventually became the normative base for all Western theology. Protestantism rejected some of the late medieval practices and theology of the Roman Catholic Church, but they remained rooted in an Augustinian perspective of reality. If anything, they went further along the path of that perspective than St. Augustine himself ever did. Thus we get ideas like ‘total depravity’ that certainly go beyond anything St. Augustine taught.

At any rate, those seem to be the primary factors in the tapestry of divergence to my eyes. Anyone think I’m missing or overlooking anything?


Original Sin 25 – Additional Scriptures Opposing Inherited Guilt

Posted: March 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 25 – Additional Scriptures Opposing Inherited Guilt

Earlier in the series, I posted what the prophet Ezekiel had to say about inherited guilt. Since then I’ve followed some references and found a few additional texts. I wanted to take a few moments to share them. The first is similar to the Ezekiel quote and is found in 2 Kings (4 Kingdoms if using the Septuagint book names) 14:6. Here’s the text.

But the children of the murderers he did not execute, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, in which the LORD commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”

And that, of course, led me to the citation in the Torah, found in Deuteronomy 24:16.

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.

Finally, the prophet Jeremiah has the following to say in Jeremiah 31:30.

But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Or, the Septuagint version (Jeremiah 38:30), which is slightly different.

But rather, each shall die in his own sin, and the teeth of him who eats the sour grapes shall be set on edge.

As you can see, the idea that guilt is not inherited was embedded in the law and the prophets by God. We don’t simply reject the idea as human beings. God rejects the idea himself in the law he gave Israel and in the prophets he sent to them.


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 23 – Ephesians 2:3

Posted: March 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 23 – Ephesians 2:3

This verse (or actually just a portion of it) is typically used to support the notion of original sin as inherited guilt. However, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to quote all of Ephesians 2 verses 1-10. (And I would even urge people to go reread all of Ephesians again if it’s been a while since you’ve done so.)

1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The part of the above that was used by St. Augustine to support the idea that we inherit guilt is the phrase “by nature children of wrath.” This was a part of his larger idea that instead of God interacting with the will and actions of each individual human eikon, after Adam all humanity became one big lump of sin. Tied to this interpretation is that we were born sharing a nature subject to God’s wrath.

However, there’s a problem with that interpretation, which is why I quoted the entire excerpt above. As Paul often does, he is contrasting two things — the kingdoms of death and of  life. All humanity was dead, subject as a result to the “prince of the power of the air“, bound by our passions, and the wrath of which we are all by nature children is the wrath flowing from the ruler of that kingdom — not God’s wrath. By contrast, God — who loves us — has made us alive in Christ, freeing us from the wrathful rule of the prince of the power of the air, and created us anew for good works rather than in bondage to our passions.

I love Ephesians. I fall in love with its vision all over again every time I read it. But it doesn’t say anything about human beings inheriting guilt. Trying to lift that one phrase in an effort to make that point does violence to the text.