So, I read this.
Go ahead, you should, too.
And though this piece contains much terminology that evokes Neopagan superstition (“the Old Ways”, gods, etc.), it raises the question for me of whether there is something inherent in humanity that can be characterized as a stain we carry from birth: an original sin.
Given what is happening to the planet as we populate its every corner, it seems as though there might be. And yet I am emphatically, irrevocably opposed to practicing a religion that wallows in guilt and shame and regret. I simply won’t have it.
So please accept that as I explore this issue, I’m not urging anyone to be ashamed. I’m not saying anyone is at fault.
But we are as we are, yes? Humans have been scouring the earth of wildlife and wild places with accelerating speed as our technology has improved. And now we’ve come to the point where we are turning the atmosphere against us.
That’s a problem, if you care about the Earth, about humanity, or both.
So what would an original sin look like? A real one, not the imaginary sort of sexist stain the Judeo-Christians believe in.
Well, for one thing it would exist in us from our earliest days. It would be something we demonstrated as a core part of our being from Day 1, and continued to do so into adulthood and, in many or most cases, throughout our lives.
For another, it would be redeemable, or it wouldn’t be worth bothering about. If we decide that something humans can’t stop doing—say, having a head—is an original sin, well…screw it, let’s be sinful, then. It’s not as though we have a choice about it.
So: destructiveness of the sacred. Inherency. And choice.
I look at these criteria, and I think about humans as we are born and grow, and I conclude that indeed, we do have an Original Sin.
It is greed.
We are born not caring about anything but getting what we want, and as much of it as we can get. That’s understandable and unblameworthy in a creature that is helpless and needs tremendous nourishment to grow. A baby is in essence a larval human: it can only eat and seek comfort as it grows and learns.
And generally speaking, children are this way. They want, and are about what they want. They will eat candy until they are sick. They have no ability to distinguish between what they need as a matter of healthy development and what they simply want as a matter of whim.
But there comes a point in the development of a human when she or he should be able to make a distinction between what is needed and what is wanted. At that point, the person can begin to practice discernment about whether what is wanted is really important enough, in the context of the greater good, to continue to pursue.
Hunger is not the original sin. Hunger is natural, and all deserve to be fed. Greed, on the other hand—gluttony—is very much so.
Our Western society is off the rails with greed. It is obscene that there are billionaires while others starve. It is obscene that we count our “success” by our material possesions, carved from the fabric of Planet Earth itself.
It is sinful.
I don’t say this to shame anyone. It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault—it’s how we’re built. And one thing about Atheopaganism is that we look unflinchingly at the world: we understand religion for what it is, and understand magical thinking for what it is, and accept what science tells us about the true nature of the Universe. We’re not afraid to face the darkness if it is what is true.
So how should we feel about this? What are we to do to be absolved?
In my view, the only way to be absolved is to live as though this is true. Consume less—especially energy. Buy used. Be aware of the tremendous cost in energy and materials that is required to bring consumer goods to your hand. Grow your own food. Buy local food when you can. Make do with less. Put your energy into arts and crafts and connection with loved ones instead of buying More Stuff.
And limit your number of children. I know, that’s controversial, it’s hard to say, but seriously: fewer mouths are what the planet could really use at this time.
It is impossible to be “blameless”, so don’t try. Yes, you’re going to travel some. Yes, you’re going to buy some new piece of technology now and then. Everyone has an ecological footprint. To be redeemed from the original sin of greed requires only that each of us makes a true effort to minimize our impacts, and communicates the importance of this to others.
And then we will be living in accordance with a sinless nature. A nature that brings us into alignment with the needs of sacred Life and which, in my experience, is rich indeed by comparison to the empty wealth of things.