Inherited Guilt

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s a recent entry.]

My previous post dealt with Deuteronomy 23:2, which advocates punishing people because one of their ancestors had a baby out of wedlock — “even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”

It is not uncommon for people to believe in inherited guilt or shame, collective guilt/shame, and guilt/shame by association. But at this point it seems obvious that these are erroneous ideas. We know better than to condemn individual persons because of their ancestry. However the idea of inherited guilt is found in verses that have become theologically crucial, at least within Christianity.

Adam and Eve, it is said, disobeyed God in Eden, and the entire human race became tainted, guilty, and worthy of punishment as a result. Note that this not the same as saying that human beings are sinful by nature. It’s true that the liturgies of some churches still include passages such as: “We are by nature sinful and unclean, and there is no health in us.” I see some problems with this idea, but right now I’m focusing on the doctrine that we are worthy of punishment regardless of whether we manage to become good persons.

Some believe, based on the story of Eden, that we all deserve to go to hell no matter how saintly we may become, simply because humanity’s parents ate that blankety-blank apple. The New England Primer, an extremely important schoolbook in Eighteenth Century America, put it in a little rhyme that children could easily remember: “In Adam’s fall/we sinned all.”

I frankly do not think it is credible that a supremely good Creator would respond to one man’s disobedience by cursing his descendants with hard, labor-filled lives, or would react to one woman’s misbehavior by making every one of her female descendants suffer pain in childbirth. Genesis 3 applies these penalties to Adam and Eve. It does not clearly state that their descendants will get the same treatment. But many theologians have interpreted the story this way, and later Bible passages also suggest we were tainted on that fateful day in Eden. More about this in my next posting.

Roger Christan Schriner

o Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

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