From the novel; ‘The whole day through’ by Patrick Gale (Laura’s elderly mother has fallen in the garden in the early hours of the morning):
“Mummy didn’t see her coming and was still calling up at her bedroom window as she emerged, keeping her voice low in an effort not to draw attention from further afield. She was sitting, heavily, inside a rather pretty pink-flowered leptospermum, naked, naturally, and clutching her secateurs in one hand and a Fabian Society mug in the other. She had managed to lose her balance without spilling all the tea and took an absent minded gulp of it as she awaited rescue.
The tableau might have encapsulated the sad decline of a brilliant mind, the pathetic geriatric dementia of the eminent virologist known to her students and peers as Professor Jellicoe. Her mind seemed as sharp as ever, however; only her limbs, not her wits, were failing and her nudity was not a symptom but a decades-old private habit.
Laura’s late father had introduced her to naturism early in their relationship and Harriet Jellicoe – Mrs Lewis, as he jokingly called her in conversation with Laura – had practiced with a convert’s zeal ever since.”
I have always struggled with the tone of today’s reading from the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve go from being happy and innocent and relaxed about their bodies and themselves; to becoming racked with guilt and shame. Because of their human weaknesses we are told that all humanity has to carry the burden of their indiscretion for all time. It has never seemed fair to me.
Adam and Eve’s guilt and their shame about being naked is all tied up with the concept of original sin and I think that concept has done humanity a great deal of harm. Even with the fact that in the New Testament we are told that Jesus was born for our redemption and the wiping away of our sins old and new, the idea of paying for Adam and Eve’s original sin still continues to be prevalent in the minds of many. Despite knowing we are redeemed we do still spend too much time focusing on our unredeemed state.
The doctrine of original sin says:
“… everyone is born sinful. This means that they are born with a built-in urge to do bad things and to disobey God.”
Original sin tries to explain humanity’s dark side and basically states that despite all the good we do and can do, we still have to be ashamed for being who we are! Many within and without the church have used this doctrine to explain their behaviour and their treatment of others. Much mediaeval persecution, especially of women as witches, was linked to the doctrine of Original Sin. It assumed that women, far more than men, were naturally tainted with evil and in no way to be fully trusted. You can see this persecution today as people, governments and churches decide who is in and who is out of their particular society; because of their gender, sexuality, race or colour. In the 21st century one might have hoped that we could get over the idea that humanity is basically bad and see that it is on the contrary basically good.
I may be naive but I have always seen my fellow men and women as being on the whole good people. Yes, there are those who choose to do evil; and we can all muck things up at times, but very few human beings ever actually set out to deliberately hurt others or to be destructive for the sake of being destructive (those who do usually hit the headlines big time) but they are the small minority, the exception and not the rule.
The theologian Matthew Fox a former Roman Catholic Dominican and now an Episcopalian coined the term ‘Original Curse’ as he came to see humanity as being good and creative and that we have been cursed by sin. Fox sees humanity as good, but unable to live up to the expectations God has of us and we (most of us) have of ourselves and each other. Fox acknowledges our imperfections but encourages us not to dwell on them but to use them as a means to try harder in living a ‘good’ life.
This approach has led to the idea of Original Blessing (which speaks volumes to me as it sees humanity as being at heart good) and it puts the doctrine of Original Sin into a realistic light. For example:
- No more Goodies versus Baddies.
- It can make me tolerant of others.
- It helps me with fellow Christians.
- I no longer need to justify myself.
- I am more able to accept criticism.
- It puts attacks in perspective.
- It can help me keep myself in perspective.
Far healthier, as I see it because it does not dwell on our weakness but on our inner goodness and I think ‘Godliness’. It does not force us to despair of our weaknesses but to accept them and to do something about them. A bit like Laura’s mother, she is totally relaxed about her body and nudity, accepting who she is and what she looks like.
I am not suggesting, however, that we all cast inhibition aside and rush out to sunbath in the nude on the church lawn. Each to their own! I am, however, suggesting that we do need to shake the burdens we carry from our shoulders to accept who we are and to recognise that the burdens and baggage we carry are our own and different to someone else’s. What each of us has to try and do is to identify what our burdens are and to set about dumping them and lightening our loads. Jesus came to us and died for us to remove the burdens we carry but we are never very good at believing that he did redeem us and thus wiped away our sins. For years I knew that I did not really believe that Jesus had redeemed me, I believed passionately that he had redeemed all of you but could never quite accept that I was included too. It screwed me up and stopped me seeing who I really am and accepting myself. Today life is different and I am content with me because I have finally come to believe that:
1. I am not awful
2. That Jesus loves me as much as he loves anyone else
3. That I too have been redeemed, just as you have.
I acknowledge that I am not perfect but then none of us are and I further acknowledge that I grow and change in the love of God and it is the knowledge of the love of God that makes all the difference.
In Christ we are made new, it is he who loves us and he who sees the best in us and who encourages us to deal with the bits of us that need changing. Jesus or God loves you should be the shout of every Christian as we walk down the street. We need to get over the idea that we are tainted with ‘original sin’ and set about coping with the times when we are cursed with not getting it right. For with God’s love we can get it right the next time if we try.