Can sin be cleansed from the world

Sin and vice

The idea of ​​original sin belongs to the strangest ideas that have been developed with some pomp and pomp and that exclusively in Western (i.e. not in Eastern Orthodox) Christianity and then permeate its non-Christian cultures in all possible variants. Tertullian (approx. 160–220) spoke of vitium originalis, the original "vice"; and Augustine of Hippo (354-430) developed under the term of peccatum originale the idea that the original sin of Adam and Eve against God's command is passed on to all human beings. For many people, this idea has long since become so strange that one looks in vain for it in the indexes of relevant works on religious studies. We are not so fond of guilt, much less a serious use of the word "sin". A developed concept of sin in European history is closely linked to the idea of ​​individual responsibility. Their development began where we least suspect their beginning: In the concept of original sin, which was synthesized from Greek and Hebrew thoughts. His path from Adam and Eve to Paul and Luther to the postmodern interpretation of Paul by Alain Badiou will be traced in this essay.

In particular, the idea of ​​original sin seems like an excess of bondage, like a degradation of human nature. It is - if we take it naively. But if you take a closer look, you might notice that it is connected in a perfectly understandable way with the idea of ​​personal responsibility of each individual and thus with the idea of ​​universal human rights. It is therefore worth trying to understand this strange legacy a little better. It could turn out that the "unique selling point" of the so-called western world, the anchoring of the rights of every individual in the general principles of our states, is based on the connection between the concepts of sin, original sin and freedom. What we learn in the biblical story of the creation of the first humans and their life in Paradise as the first sin suggests that Adam and Eve acquired the ability to distinguish between good and evil in violation of the prohibition of their creator and ruler .

"Death is the wages of sins"

Anyone who explains death by saying that it is the result of sin wants one thing above all: to get a grip on the monstrous. If you are to blame for your own death, it would be up to you to avoid it. In this sense, the basic idea of ​​sin is, from the earliest times, an attempt at self-empowerment through morality. The Hebrew tradition differs from the Greek tradition that this is always held to be possible in it. The Greeks considered moral fatalities to be inevitable and sought their luck in dealing with the horrors of nature by researching its laws. They too knew an idea of ​​guilt - but it was tragic from the start, and no decisions or prior knowledge helped against them. Where the Greek and Hebrew traditions finally came together, the idea of ​​original sin arose.

We always experience death as witnesses to the death of others. The sight of their death makes us realize that we will suffer it ourselves too. On the one hand, we are made for this clarity. On the other hand, it frightens us so much that we can despair of the world because of it. So the first impulse of the human being is to ward off the overstimulation by being completely clear about the situation. And he puts his mind at the service of stimulus protection, but also for precaution. So the terrified early man, as European intellectual history likes to imagine him, looks for rules in natural processes that he can adhere to in order to protect himself from the terrifying arbitrariness of the forces of nature, and he looks for means to control events to influence his senses. In view of the protracted helplessness of the human offspring, the first violence that every human child gets to know is the social one. Before the hero struggles through the jungle alone or explores space, he is exposed to his first relationships with the closest adults and other children for a few years.

Already in early communities, belonging was established through protection and obedience: the mighty, who protects and cares, can expect loyalty in return. Anyone who does not meet his duties of obedience in such a constellation is considered guilty and can expect penalties. That is why the inventor of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, said that what is called conscience is first of all social fear. Everything that is connected with the conscious rebellion against the only powerful father is considered to be "sin". In this sense, the sentence of the apostle Paul from his letter to the Romans - "Death is the wages of sin" (Rom. 6:23) - is mostly understood: either "affirmative" - ​​so that it is connected with the invitation becomes to keep away from sin, to remain obedient and then at least, if not to attain the life of this world, at least the life beyond; or "critical" - with the request to free yourself from such "primitive" assumptions and to take responsibility for your own life.

During the Enlightenment - since Immanuel Kant defined in German as the "man's exit from his self-inflicted immaturity" - original sin was rejected as "improper". But the so-called postmodern age has questioned the Enlightenment project itself - and some philosophers are rereading Paul as a fighter for a new universalism - but against Kant. Interestingly, their explanation of Paul's letters can actually help explain what "sin" means in the history of Western culture . The idea of ​​sin comes into view as a first attempt at abstraction, which should lead us out of the old intimidations. Accordingly, the idea of ​​original sin could encourage protest: If we all are sinful, it is also the mighty one demanding obedience, the "Horde father" (Freud) - and later perhaps even his abstraction, the "Father God".

But if we completely stop conceiving of death as a result of guilt and sin against any master, then we have the advantage that we are all at the mercy of cruel or friendly chance. On the other hand, however, we have the disadvantage of having to accept that he can hit us in the same way as the other who lived "more sinfully" than us. And we have to find new motivations for socially acceptable and friendly behavior. In the time of the European Enlightenment, its pioneers were also often afraid of "godless" atheists who would supposedly become dangerously rampant if the fear of otherworldly punishments no longer kept them in check. But those times are over. Today we know for sure that especially people who feel more committed to a God than to their fellow human beings can act particularly brutally and inhumanly.