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Knowledge is the Original Sin

My brother just emailed me a quote from Sigmund Freud, of all people:

"The
more the fruits of knowledge become accessible to men, the more widespread is
the decline of religious belief."

It reminded me of this, one of my favorite passages in literature of all time. This is an excerpt from John Galt’s speech in the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, dealing with the foundational Christian doctrine of Original Sin.

Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accepts his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some inexplicable claim upon him – it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin. A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man’s nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil – he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor – he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire – he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was – that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love – he was not man.

Man’s fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he’s man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man.

Of course, you can easily see that the doctrine upon which the whole of Christianity rests (the natural depravity of man, requiring the
sacrifice of Christ) is a complete contradiction in terms (though it requires
a 5th-grade education to understand this). Therefore, Christianity is a load of rubbish from square one and anyone is foolish to put any stock it it whatsoever.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

5 Comments

  1. David on November 30, 2006 at 17:22

    Great speech. Great book, too. I was in love with everything Ayn Rand back as a teenager. I'm less in love now, far less, but I still respect much of her logic and her sense of reason, demonstrated excellently in that excerpt. I'm not Christian. I'm Jewish though by no means religious. But I've learnt that when it comes to Christianity, and Judaism, there is a huge amount of misunderstanding. Rand's view of what Christian doctrine means is valid but it is in the end just her view on a matter highly susceptible to myriad interpretations and explanations. She's good at making herself look definitive, but she's not, unfortunately. That'd be too easy 😉

  2. Richard Nikoley on November 30, 2006 at 18:21

    David:

    Interestingly, from what I can gather, the Jewish religion does not hold Original Sin as a doctrine:

    This link seems to indicate that there was a time when Jews may have held to such a doctrine, but not anymore:

    http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/9_8/sin

    This is not surprising. Jews seem to possess the virtue of molding their religion over time to reconcile with what they perceive. Reason plays some part. They're not going to be completely irrational or contradictory. Christians have no such "problems."

    At any rate, as a former Christian, I can assure you that the doctrine of Original Sin is quite healthy. Of course, there's not a one of them who can deal with that passage above.

    I used to raise this issue with Catholics, including priests, when I lived in France. In general, they are far more open to discussion than Americans. They were pretty much all honest enough to acknowledge that the doctrine of Original Sin was very problematic from a logical standpoint, for those reasons identified by Ayn Rand..

    You'll never get that in America, particularly in a born-again, fundamentalist setting. They either don't have the capacity to understand plain concepts, or they're just willing lie to themselves. "God said it. I believe it. That settles it."

    Yea, they say that with a straight face.

  3. Kyle Bennett on December 2, 2006 at 14:34

    Celal,

    I think Satan has been putting things in your head. I mean, if you admit that everything you are and know is a product of someone else, it could just as easily be Satan, right? Afterall, how would you know the difference?

    Fortunately, salvation is at hand. Simply take every thing you believe in, and start living by its exact opposite.

  4. Richard Nikoley on December 2, 2006 at 16:32

    Celal:

    This is why I like having comments open so much. I could write a million words and still it could not fully illustrate what it's truly like to think completely outside the bounds of reality, delusionally. You can do it in just a few paragraphs.

    It's a perfect example of closed-loop logic. Only, there's a problem, and this goes to the heart of why I like to use Original Sin. Morality has a clear meaning that is so fundamental, there's no way to escape the identification that man cannot be immoral by nature, with no choice in the matter and no opportunity to be moral. But, bless you heart: you're willing to be a Fool for Jesus and go there anyway.

    Faith is indeed a powerful force. It can make raving lunatics of otherwise intelligent beings.

    What's up next? A guide to the care and feeding of elves and fairies? I'm sure it will make perfect sense, given one assumes the existence of elves and fairies.

  5. Celal on December 2, 2006 at 10:40

    he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being.

    Man was a rational being in his innocence so he did not BECOME such by eating from the tree from which God forbid him to eat.

    I think we forget that we are creatures (i.e. created). We are DEPENDENT on some other for our very own existence. Primarily that dependence is on God to whom we naturally and rationally owe obedience.

    It was the knowledge of good and evil – he became a moral being.

    The foundation of all immorality is failure to acknowledge and give glory to God. Man lost the morality God endowed him in his creation through disobedience not only in the Garden of Eden but every day of our lives. This is why the doctrine of Original Sin is the soundest of Christian doctrines Evidence for it is to be found in every newspaper and television news report.

    He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor – he became a productive being.

    Check you facts. Work existed before the fall as God commanded Adam to till the Garden of Eden. It become burdensome toil only afterwards.

    He was sentenced to experience desire – he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment.

    God created sex and the enjoyment of it. It is the improper use of sex which is sinful and not the enjoyment of proper sex in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman entirely commited to one another.

    The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence.

    Faulty premises, faulty conclusion. And the rest is just more rubbish.

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